Monday, April 11, 2005

Torn Nets

Maman Leah is making me stay home today. She won’t even allow me to do any work. Says I need a break.

Yes, I know she’s right, but it’s hard to put a stop to everything. At least she’s allowing me to blog …

Here’s what I know to be true -- you can’t catch fish with torn nets.

Last week, I read John 21, where the disciples have returned to their pre-Jesus occupations – fishing. They spend the night catching exactly nothing. They’re probably beginning to wonder if they’ve lost their knack for fishing.

All of a sudden, Jesus wanders by on-shore. He shouts out directions to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The weary fishermen don’t have the heart to refuse. They do it anyway, and end up catching precisely 153 fish. I’m not sure exactly why John felt it important to report this odd number, and I can’t figure out if it has any symbolic importance. But what caught my attention this time was verse 17: “But even with so many (fish) the net was not torn.”

It’s clear that this story is about evangelism and the work of an apostle. Jesus had previously told his disciples that they would be “fishers of people.” In this episode, the disciples experience every evangelist’s nightmare – no one responds to the call, no one comes down the aisle no matter how many verses you sing. The bait is still sitting on the hook. No one bites.

It is only upon the direction of Jesus to reverse sides of the boat that the fishermen succeed. There’s a sermon here – so many churches, pastors, and mission-minded laypeople simply need to move to the other side of the boat in order to catch fish! So many of us need to relocate our mission efforts, we’ve gotta look for new fishing holes. Maybe we’ve simply “fished out” a place. If we listen to Jesus, we might get directed to a new place, on the other side of the boat, the other side of the tracks, the other side of the world even! It’s not about changing the bait, or sharpening the hook – you need a new spot!

However, when the nets are finally hauled ashore, the Gospel writer takes the time to point out the fact that the nets are not torn, despite the great catch. I think what John is really trying to say is that no one can do effective ministry when their own personal nets are torn, or when their own interior lives are full of holes, ragged, slipshod, ratty. Nets get worn with heavy use; they must be repaired.

When we visit the beach at Kribi, we love taking early-morning swims and watching the fishermen prepare their nets. They take time to examine the whole web before they set out to sea. It’s this daily, time-consuming practice that makes them effective fishermen.

Torn nets are useless things. And so are Christians who get so busy in ministry, in service, in work, that they forget to sit for a few moments and rest their inner spirits. They forget to actually look at the beauty of the ocean, the waves, the palm trees on the shore.

A life of spiritual and emotional wholeness is like a seamless net. It will naturally catch many people in its web of divine love and joy. You don’t even have to work at evangelism if you’ve got seamless nets, just dragging it behind you will catch some stray fish.

But if there are gaping holes, all is lost. The potential “catch” will notice the hypocrisy, will escape by confusing the message with the messenger, or worse, will never even catch a glimpse of the truth.

Today is a day for me to mend my nets, to allow my inner spirit to rest and relax. I pray that your net is whole, too!