The Lord’s Servant: Fisher of People, Matthew 4:18-22
By The Revd Sue Hope, Wycliffe Hall Chaplain | 22nd Feb 2017
This servant lives under the authority of the Word of God and thus has the authority to call others to follow.
His word, his call have power. And the call comes to Simon and Andrew as they are casting their nets, and then to James and John who are preparing their nets. And both sets of brothers, leave their nets and follow Jesus. Leaving the nets and leaving the boat and leaving the father – leaving the means of livelihood, leaving a very valuable asset (the boat) – leaving a deep filial relationship – to follow Jesus.
I expect we are all familiar with Bonhoeffer’s famous saying, ‘When Jesus bids a man to follow him, he bids him come and die’. If you are feeling that at present, that you are needing to leave something precious behind in order to follow the Lord more closely, that you are ‘dying’, can I remind us all that this dying is only the dying to what we might call the ‘false self’. Of course, the false self can exert a lot of power. It crushes the true self, obliterates if it can. Following Jesus is for our freedom. Any dying we do is only to deal with the false and the fantasy. Following Jesus means we become who we really are. Simon the fisherman became Peter. Jesus named him long before he exhibited any rock-like characteristics. And in fact, he had to have a big failure before he could really become the Rock.
They left their nets and in so doing, like Jesus at his baptism, they walked away from one possible life into another one. They become learners. Learning how to fish for the Kingdom.
Note Jesus doesn’t say ‘I will magic you into fishers of men, women and children’. He says ‘I will make you’. I think we are in a bit of snare in the churches when we assume that an evangelist is a ready-made person, and if you don’t fit the bill, you aren’t an evangelist. But in fact, any craft or trade takes a lot of learning and many years of practice, reflection and working at it to get it better. Think about it…
Playing an instrument
Fishing for the Kingdom is a craft, learned over a long period of time, with many attendant mistakes!
Jesus said, Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.
So as we think about fishing for the Kingdom today – here’s five starters for personal evangelism!
1. Are you a Celt or a Roman in your fishing for the Kingdom?
The pattern of evangelisation of these islands by the Irish Celtic missionaries – the monk would step into his coracle, ‘Lord, wherever the wind takes me, that’s where I’m meant to be…’ This is a responsive model of evangelism. 'Lord, bring across my path today...’
By contrast, when the Roman mission landed in Kent and built a mission base there - which is still there, under the shadow of the prison now - they set out strategically to take the land. Move out, consolidate, move out again. Strategic model.
If you think about it, this is ‘right brain, left brain’ stuff. Maybe we need a bit of both to be balanced? C of E – more on the responsive side, until recently. But strategic thinking isn’t limited to group evangelism.
2. Choose your ‘net’ carefully
Green mentions this in his commentary on Matthew. ‘The fisherman needs perseverance, patience, flexibility in the use of different methods. There were three different kinds of nets that the fishermen used on the Lake. The big nets caught shoals. A great picture of the church – the gathered community and how people can be caught and held by a network of loving relationships. That’s why one of the tasks of leaders in the churches is to keep mending the nets. Keep making sure the relationships are holding strong. Where there are tears in the net, the new fish slip through. But we don’t only use big nets to catch fish. If you want to catch a river trout, you use a fly. And not just any old fly. The fly that you construct must look like the fly that the trout feeds on. Similarly, if you want to catch a lobster, you won’t catch it with a fly. You need a lobster pot. Obvious! And yet – there is still so much formulaic evangelism operating! Choose your net with thought and care.
3. Don’t be afraid to play them out on a long line!
Give people space. If you have the opportunity to share something of the gospel – perhaps your testimony – perhaps you’ve taken someone to church – then beware of tugging the line too fiercely to try to reel them in! Rather, play the line out! This is strategic! The next few times you see them, just be a normal nice human being. If you’re always hammering the faith stuff, they will pull away. Play it out. Let them be. They are hooked but don’t know they are! It’s all about timing and it’s also about trusting the Holy Spirit to be doing his work.
4. Engage in ‘mental fight’
People have very mixed feelings about ‘Jerusalem’ by William Blake. Lots of those ‘outside the church’ actually like it. But there is a very powerful line in it: I will not cease from mental fight...till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’. I’m not sure that, until recently, many of us in the churches did ‘mental fight’ in terms of thinking about how to reach unreached peoples in this country. We generally expect to lay on a good service in church, and if we’ve got someone good at preaching they can do that sort of evangelism. But ‘mental fight’ means really thinking into the context, into the hearts and minds and lives of those we are seeking to reach. The fresh expressions movement is trying to do just that. And the strategy doesn’t have to be ‘big’. Jesus sent them out two by two.
What can we do? How can we do it? Mental fight. The answers don’t come at once. Try, then try again.
As one person trying to church plant in Bristol put it, ‘I’d rather fail trying than fail to try!’
5. Do it your way!
People sometimes think that to be an evangelist you suddenly need to adopt a different persona. Or that there is one particular sort of person who is ‘an evangelist’ – and it’s not us. We look at the early church and see, say, Philip the Evangelist who went down to a city in Samaria and had a hugely exciting time there proclaiming Christ. Evil spirits came out of many, paralytics and cripples were healed. There was great joy in that city. The whole city was impacted. This is Philip the Evangelist.
But then there is Timothy. He was young, he was timid, he had frequent illnesses, it seemed that people rather looked down on him. He wasn’t setting the place on fire. He wasn’t a Christian superstar. He was pastoring a church and he was a steady Eddie! But what does Paul say to him, 'Keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist….’ This is Timothy the evangelist.
And then there is Mary Magdalene. The apostle to the apostles. Her call came out of her encounter with Jesus, ‘Go, and tell my brothers….’ And so she does. And she uses personal testimony. ‘I have seen the Lord’. This is Mary the evangelist.
Get it? Do it your way.
And Jesus said: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, women and children.
And they left their nets, and followed him.