Plenty of Room in the Net
I have preached on this odd detail of knowing how many fish are in the net, saying in part,
With the impetuous Peter paddling to shore, the remaining disciples struggle in the hundred yards with bulging nets in tow. Once on shore we are told that they have caught large fish, 153 of them.The full text of the sermon is online here: Plenty of Room in the Net.
I want to pause here for a moment. 153 fish. Really. Who counted them. John, the future Gospel writer stops being the disciple whom Jesus loved long enough to turn into reporter. This will make a great scene in my book John thinks and starts stacking up the fish. “One, two, three, four. No Nathanael don’t move them, I’m counting. One, two, three, four.” And on he counts until “151, 152, 153.” So much for breakfast on the beach with Jesus.
The great commentator on scripture, Jerome, offered a different possibility. Jerome cites a source that Greeks taught of 153 species of fish. If Jerome is right, this number may be symbolic of what is actually happening on the beach that morning. When they followed Jesus’ instructions, the disciples did not just catch fish, they caught big ones. And they didn’t just catch a lot of fish, but all the kinds of fish there are to be caught. Now that’s the fishing story to end all fishing stories. They didn’t just have a good haul of fish, symbolically they caught them all. It is the fish story version of the line from Revelation that says, “You ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
What I think is going on here is that the spiritually-in-tune John is telling us what they really learned that morning they had the big catch, and it was not a fishing lesson. These men were apostles, which means someone who is sent out. Jesus was sending them out to start fishing for people in a big way and he provided an object lesson to bring the point home.
The Kingdom of God is not just for people who look like you, think like you, act like you. The Kingdom of God is for all the peoples of the earth. And the net is big enough to hold them all without tearing. John makes this point clear in writing, “Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though they were so many, the net was not torn.”
There is room in God’s kingdom for everybody, all kinds of people. In fact, the net won’t be full until it has every kind of person in it. Every tribe, language, people and nation. Don’t worry. It won’t tear. There is plenty of room in the net.
Then came breakfast. Jesus feeds his disciples again. Bread and fish, just like with the thousands on the hillside. This is making the message even clearer. See the net that catches all the kinds of fish and does not break. See the meal of bread and fish, just like before. Now remember that you are to go into all the world with this message of God’s love.
The hard part would have been leaving the beach...Yet, if those guys stay on the beach, then the Good News of Christianity never reaches you and me. Jesus longed for a relationship with all that he had made and the way to get it was for these guys around the campfire to get going....
It happens again and again. A church feels like a family. We all know and love each other. We may rub each other the wrong way now and again, but when it is family-sized, it feels like family. Every family has its little problems, folks who go on and on at family reunions and bore you with their stories. But, you just know that you took your turn with Uncle Joe at the last get together and so cousin Sally is taking her turn this time. It will be OK. Yet families grow. Folks marry, babies are born. Things change. But with churches, if we don’t watch it, we get that cozy breakfast on the beach feeling and forget that the net isn’t even close to full. We can look at a congregation and feel satisfied, everything is just about right. Jesus looks around and sees a lost and hurting world that needs someone to reach out to it in love and finds all the folks holding nets feel like their net is just about topped off. I’m sorry Jesus. This boat is full. No more room for smelly fish here....
Our loving God wants all creation to love like Jesus loves, and guess what? You are the one holding the net. Since the net is the Kingdom of God, you might not even be sure if there is a net, or if you are in the net yet. But God is still giving you the chance all the time to love as Jesus loves. You can sit back by the fire and decide to listen a bit more to the fish stories, or you can reach out in love with confidence that there is plenty of room in the net.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Fisher of Men (Women and Kids too)