A fishing net is a pretty nifty little tool, and it’s been around forever. You just throw this thing over the side of the boat and wait – presto, when you haul it back in, you’re in for a treat… maybe. Or maybe not.
Life is kind of like that, isn’t it? Each of us is given this web of gifts and experiences.. .and we work diligently throughout life with the help of parents, mentors and friends to weave them together into a kind of net. And each day we heave this mesh of gifts and experience into the mysterious waters of life, waiting to see what we will end up with – hoping that we will get what we need or want. But we can never be sure, can we?
It’s a pretty anxious life, being a fisherman, especially when your life, and the lives of those you love depend on bringing in a catch. And so it’s no surprise that so many spend hours worrying and working tirelessly to make sure that their nets are in good order. From the earliest years we instruct our children on how to build a net that will get as many fish as possible – starting with good grades, we urge them to develop the traits that will make them successful.
Yet so much is outside of our control – the dark waters of life have a mind of their own and it is impossible to see into their depths with any accuracy. We can only hope that we’re in the right place with a large enough net.
Then there is the constant reality of storms that seem to come out of nowhere with such fury – the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a crisis in the family. We scan the horizon, trying to be vigilant, hoping that we won’t be caught out at sea and suddenly lose everything. The dark waters of life are fraught with unseen dangers and we have all seen what happens to those who do not navigate them with care.
In our time, don’t these waters of life seem have grown more dangerous, expanding into a massive sea? Small ponds no longer seem to exist. We have all been immersed into the massive ocean of a global economy where the fish are bigger, but the storms are bigger too. And we do our best to navigate increasingly dark and mysterious depths of this great sea of modern life, but we can’t help but be more anxious, more nervous about the future than ever.
And then today in our gospel we hear a voice, strong and confident from the shore, from the seaward road that Isaiah speaks of in our first reading – in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. It is a voice that has not stopped ringing out for the last 2000 years, piercing the darkness like a light as from a lighthouse in the midst of a gloomy sea. It is a strange voice, barely audible above the roar of the waves. “What are you doing out there? Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”
What does that even mean, telling us all to come to shore? Telling us to leave the concern for our nets behind. Is he crazy? Doesn’t he care for our survival?
But then he asks us: “What assurance do you have that all of your efforts and labors will gain you anything? Do you really think that you are immune to the storms of life? You are not made to merely cling to survival, to be constantly on edge, worrying about life. You don’t need to live like this. Leave aside your nets for a while. The net is not the proper tool for the kind of fishing that you need to be doing. Stop trying to drag everything you can from life into your little boat. You will find no happiness in these waters,
What Jesus tells us again and again is that true security, true happiness is found not by weaving our gifts and time and energy into a net in order to get what we can from life, but when we freely give what we have received to others. This love of others is the art of fishing for men – the art of giving of our lives to one another.
One of the greatest tricks of the evil one is to convince us that this kind of fishing, the love of God and neighbor, makes us less secure, makes it harder to survive. That we will only be secure if we weave our time and energy into some kind of safety net honed to get what we can from life for ourselves and those we care about.
But what is more secure: an expensive alarm system in the right neighborhood, or neighbors on all sides who know you and care about you?
What is more secure, all the right pedigree, degrees and promotions, or long-lasting and trustworthy friendships that are life-giving and meaningful?
What is more secure, a retirement account that is well funded, or relationships with children and grandchildren who are close to you and love you?
What is more secure: professional counselors and doctors who are sometimes able to treat your ailments, or a relationship with a loving God who you know and trust will guide you through anything?
And during a storm, a net is useless. It means absolutely nothing. You can have the largest, toughest, most sophisticated net in the world. It will only drag you under during a storm. And as far as fish – well who wants to spend the latter part of their lives with a stockpile of fish. Fish don’t keep very well – just like the blessings that we receive in life. They are better enjoyed fresh.
So follow the example of Peter and Andrew in our gospel today, and leave your nets aside more often. That’s not to say that our fishing days are over, but we will not be able to adequately love those around us if all of our gifts and time and energy are wound up together in a fishing net. And this means that each of us must consciously work to unravel the nets, work to place more of our time and energy and gifts directly at the service of those closest to us.
We must teach our children what real fishing looks like – teach them the joy of serving others, the joy of being an engaged husband or wife, of being a close family, of life-giving friendships, of being a good neighbor, an active parishioner, an involved member of the community. If our children learn these fishing skills they will be able to weather whatever storms this dark sea of life throws at them.
We don’t need nearly as many fish as we might think we do, and remember that Jesus is the great multiplier of loves and fish. Come to the shore more often, spend time in prayer, involved in the parish, with your wives and husbands, your children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents, parishioners, neighbors and friends. Sacrifice for them, give your time and energy to them. Become a fisher of men. And then your days at sea won’t be as anxious, your net won’t feel so heavy, the catch won’t seem so light - because you will already have everything you need.