I was about 10 years old, and camping with my parents at Lee Hall Farm in Virginia. The owner of the farm was standing at the edge of the fishing pond, catching one fish after another. They were all small, about 4 or 5 inches long. He’d take them off the hook and toss them over his shoulder in a plastic bag. Then, he’d throw his line back out.
I’d never seen anybody do what he was doing, so I asked him about it. He said, “Son, when I get that bag full of bluegill, I’m gonna go up and throw them in the incinerator.”
He was going to BURN them! I asked how come. He said, “Those little fish won’t get any bigger than they are now, because there’s too many of them in the pond.”
He told me how he used to have a great fishing pond, stocked with bass, huge, fat lazy ones. But, someone had thrown in a couple of bluegill a few years back. Now they had reproduced and taken over the pond.
“They’re too small to clean and eat, but they’re big enough that they keep reproducing. Worse than that, there’s bass in that pond, but the bluegill keep eating all the bass eggs, so I never get any more bass. Today, I’m pulling in all the bluegill I can, and burning them in the incinerator.”
He really left an impression on my young mind. Especially years later, when I read that the Kingdom of God was like a fisherman doing the same thing that the farmer did.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered every kind. When it was full, they drew it to shore and sat down. They gathered the good fish into containers, but threw the bad ones away. So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall come forth, and separate the wicked from among the just.
Jesus wasn’t talking about using a fishing line and hook, but using a net. The net is set out in the water almost like a fence, staying upright. Then, both ends are drawn together and it’s dragged up to the sand and sorted.
The fisherman put the good fish into boxes, and throw the bad ones into a heap to be burned. Some of the fish that are thrown out are the kinds that you just don’t eat, like the eels, or jellyfish. Other fish that are dead or dying are also thrown into the reject pile.
It really isn’t a hard job for the fisherman to separate the good fish from bad. They know what’s good for food, and what’s not fit to eat. At the end of the day, there’s not one bad fish in the boxes headed for the market. And, on the refuse pile, there’s not one good healthy fish.
What’s the most meaning of this parable? First of all, the net is cast out for both good and bad fish. Fisherman cast their net into the sea, and then drag to shore whatever’s in the net.
In the same way, God sends the gospel and uses His goodness to each person, whether good or bad. He keeps casting out His net in order to bring in segment after segment of society, generation after generation of people, to draw them slowly to the edge of this life, and into the next world.
At first, the fish in the net aren’t even aware they’re in it. They swim around freely, not even noticing they’re being invisibly drawn towards the shore. They’re like people, not aware that they’re being drawn towards eternity. They eat, play and move around, thinking their lives will last forever.
As the net closes in on them, they yield to it and learn to swim a little bit slower, enjoying what limited freedom they have left. They don’t even realize they’re in danger until they’re brought up onto sand, into an unknown world. Then they panic and struggle, throwing themselves fully into trying to survive, but within a few moments, they give up.
It’s the same way with life. Both the good and the bad are drawn to the edge of life in this world and then into the unknown world on the other side.
We don’t struggle against being drawn towards eternity at first. Like the fish, we don’t really notice. On the other hand, when the net begins to close in, we all struggle! Good and bad, rich and poor, black and white – we all struggle feeling alarmed at the discovery that we’re not as free or as in control as we thought.
That’s why there’s such an emphasis, no, an obsession with trying to look young and to defy aging. That’s why the whole field of plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery is flourishing like never before. All the “fish” are in sheer terror at the drawing in of the net!
You can’t escape the net! The earth is full of all kinds of people, who move about freely in the deep and wide sea of this life. But, there is a net that’s been let down in the water and it’s slowly being drawn towards us.
At first the net has a wide diameter, so the fish has as much room as he needs. Even when the net is pulled a little tighter, the fish doesn’t panic. He just moves out of the way, and keeps on like he’s done all his life.
He isn’t aware that it’s a net. It seems more like things he’s seen and handled before. More like loose seaweed, string, and debris. He’s gone around them before and he’ll do it again. But now, he notices that they keep closing him in. And, that there’s a barrier between him and the open sea.
When he gets a little closer, he notices that it’s not seaweed at all, it’s different and far more threatening. It’s closing in on him and he can get around it, over it or go under it. He darts head on into it, and gets caught in its folds. He struggles violently and then tires and gives up, until he’s dragged to shore.
Why did Jesus tell us these things…because He doesn’t love us? NO! Because He DOES love us! Jesus loves and pities even the worst of people…that’s why He spoke these words.