Have you ever considered the obstacles that Peter must’ve faced in fulfilling Jesus’ desire to make him a “fisher of men?” (Matthew 4:19). I don’t know nearly enough about 1st Century culture to be able to comment on the specific challenges of doing so. I don’t know very much about fishing, either, but I do know that catching a fish seems to require some kind of bait. The fish has to be presented with something to which it is attracted in order to ultimately become ensnared. Having been an expert fisherman prior to knowing Jesus, maybe Peter drew upon this knowledge in his attempt to become the fisherman he was truly meant to be—but how can we apply it today?
Obviously, it takes something a little different than a worm on a hook to capture a man—especially in the way that Jesus has in mind. Far more than just a physical capture, Jesus aims for a spiritual capture—a capture of the heart and mind that transcends the physical world in its entirety. Such a capture often requires the presentation not of a physical thing, but rather the presentation of an idea to which someone may be attracted. The cultural acceptance of an idea has a tendency to be very fleeting. An idea that was widely accepted two-thousand years ago—or even less than a hundred years ago—might be considered today to be old-fashioned, backwards, or offensive. So, the obstacles to capturing someone’s heart are constantly changing. Thankfully, though, Jesus Himself, remains as He’s always been.
The sad fact is that there are all kinds of fishermen out there, competing with God for our hearts. Some even claim to be in league with God, although the messages they propagate stand in complete opposition to what Jesus taught. They tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear—granting us the “freedom” to live on our terms rather than presenting the true life our Creator longs to give us. We live in a culture today where self-love appears to be more highly esteemed than sacrificial love. We’re told that we have the right to be happy, even if we have to hurt someone else in the process of becoming so. And in the bounds of our fallen nature, this is a very liberating idea—far more attractive to us than Jesus’ assertion that one must lay down his life in order to express love in its highest form.
I don’t know about you, but this assertion on Jesus’ part has always put me to shame. It has put me to shame, in part, because I know it’s true, and also because I know that apart from intense intimacy with God, I will never be capable of such love. So, how is a “fisher of men” supposed to lure people to God with such a bitter bait, especially in a culture with so many competing fishermen who are presenting a bait much easier for us to swallow? It might be very challenging to convince someone that denying himself would prove more gratifying than indulging himself, but it might not be so difficult to convince him of the satisfaction that comes from intense intimacy with his Creator. Maybe that’s the key.
We all try so hard to fill this mysterious void in our lives. We think that if we had more money, or nicer things, or more attractive physical features, or more value in the eyes of other people that this void would finally be filled, and the competing fishermen in this world will reinforce such erroneous ideas when the truth is that God is the only Person with the power to fill this void—because He made us with the need to be one with Him. When we finally understand the extent of His power over us in conjunction with the depth of His love for us, we will ultimately come to understand not only that we have no rights outside of His will, but that we never want to do anything displeasing to Him ever again—because we love Him, too. In loving Him, we will want to submit to His commands, even when it’s hard. We will want to surrender our lives to His purpose no matter how far away from Him the tide of public opinion will seek to carry us. We will know that our union with Him is the only thing that matters, because He—the God of love and Love itself—has captured us.