FCS Urban Ministries: focused community strategies

 

Let’s Go Fishing

June 2010

by Bob Lupton, June 2010

No one knows fish like a commercial fisherman.  When your livelihood is dependent on your daily catch, you become an expert in the habits and appetites of edible species.  You study spawning seasons, migration patterns, the tides, the weather – anything to calculate the optimal time to cast off for a productive expedition.  But as all fishermen know, fish are elusive creatures.  With all the best intelligence, catching them is still a matter of chance. 

Simon was a fisherman.  He and his two partners, James and John, owned a small commercial fishing fleet that afforded them a modest living.  They had been out all night dragging their heavy nets but pulling in nothing.  Discouraging toil but necessary.  It was, after all, a game of odds.  And years of experience had taught them that at this time in the fishing calendar the odds of a catch diminished with the rising of the sun. Time to call it a day, or a night, rather.   

They had pulled their boats up onto the shore and had just begun cleaning the seaweed out of their nets when a noisy gathering of town folk came pushing and shoving down the beach.  The crowd was attracted by the provocative speech of a young Galilean.  Rumors were this young teacher was a new prophet on the scene – some even said he might be the long awaited messiah.  Everyone was pressing in for a look.  The young teacher, spying the idle boats, motioned to Simon to push one off shore a few feet to give him a little separation from the jostling crowd.  Simon obliged and the teacher continued his speech using Simon’s boat as a floating platform. 

When his speech ended and the crowd disbursed, the young teacher expressed his gratitude to Simon for the use of his boat.  And then offered a most unusual suggestion.  No, it was more than a suggestion, more like an order.  “Give it another try, Simon, out there in the deep water.”  It was not a particularly welcome request.  The teacher may have been alive with morning energy, probably had a good night’s sleep, but Simon was spent.  The last thing he wanted to do was load up his soggy net again and row out into the lake.  But then, who knows, maybe this Galilean was a sure-enough prophet after all.  Maybe he knew something Simon didn’t.  Reluctantly Simon consented.  Motioning to his helper to give him a hand, they dragged the half-cleaned net back onto the boat and shoved off from shore.

They rowed out to where Gennesaret’s water turned an inky blue-green and dropped the net over the side. No sooner had it disappeared below the surface than a furious tugging began.  It was the kind of tension a fisherman recognizes well, the kind of pulling a fisherman’s dreams are made of.  “Pull! Pull!”  Simon roared.   In moments the net was bulging with fish, so many they could barely drag it up over the side.  The bottom of the boat was literally alive with a flipping, flopping mass fish.  Another cast of the net produced the same results.  “Get out here fast!” Simon bellowed to James and John who were still on shore cleaning their nets.  In a few frantic minutes both crews were hauling in nets literally bursting with fish, so many fish that the sheer weight threatened to sink their boats.  Never in their entire fishing careers had they landed a catch to equal this one.  Never. 

When the boats were eased back to shore, top-heavy with precious cargo that would bring a record return from the fish merchants, the impact of the episode began to sink in.  Simon’s first reaction, once he caught his breath and wiped the sweat from his face, was profound embarrassment.  “Master.”  That’s about all he could get out. This had to be the messiah, and what disrespect he had shown him!  “Just leave,” Simon motioned, staring down at the sand in humiliation.  “You don’t want to associate with a sinner like me.” 

“Oh, that’s alright, Simon,” the Teacher responded with a smile.  “You’ve got some bigger fish than this to catch. Come on, I’ll show you.”   And that’s when Simon the commercial fisherman became Peter the fisher of men. 

It’s a dangerous thing to let Jesus use your boat, even for a morning.  It can end up costing you far more than you bargained for.  Just ask Peter.  Lend Jesus an idle asset (like a beached boat or unused office space or a bit of your schedule) and it can open you up to a whole new life.  Take Jack Morse, successful real estate developer, who lent our ministry a little bit of his unused credit capacity to purchase and rehab a vacant apartment complex for affordable housing.  It was a small deal for Jack.  At first.  And then he uncovered the need for a decent grocery store in the neighborhood.  He got drawn in a little deeper.  And then arose the opportunity to transform a nearby public housing project from a killing field to a healthy community, a daunting challenge.  In the end, Jack walked away from his boat and nets to devote full-time to redemptive work in the city.  As I said, it’s a dangerous thing to let Jesus use your boat.

It’s dangerous, yes, but ask Peter or Jack or any of a handful of successful business people you know who have been lured into a Jesus-mission and you will hear a similar response.  “I-had-no-idea.”  That’s what you’ll hear.  You may hear words like “challenging” or “consuming” or “frustrating” or “inspiring”.  But there is one word you will not hear.  “Regret.”  Go ahead.  Ask them.  Ask Tom Cousins who converted a defunct golf course into a cash cow that transformed the ghetto community of East Lake.  Or David Allman who leveraged his assets and influence to take on poverty in Nicaragua.   Ask them or any of the others you know who have taken the risk of lending Jesus an idle asset and you’ll get the same story.  Life has never been the same.

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