Fish stories and a life of discipleship

Waves splashed against the side of an old row boat and rocked us gently from side to side. My eyes were fixed on my red and white bobber as it floated on a shimmering cobalt blue Minnesota lake. I gripped my fishing rod with both hands and tried as hard as a small child was able not to make any loud noises that might scare away the fish. Fishing with a bobber was my favorite kind of fishing. Sometimes the bobber bounced playfully on the surface of the water as a fish nibbled the bait below. When the bobber suddenly disappeared and I felt a tug on my rod, I was filled with hope that I had caught a big one!

I remember that Grandpa taught me how to bait my own hook with a fat earthworm, and then without a way to wash our hands we rinsed them off in lake water before eating the sandwiches Grandma had packed for our lunch.

Sometimes I fished with Grandpa, sometimes with Dad, sometimes with my sister or brother. We fished from a row boat, from a bridge, from a lakeshore, a riverbank, or even through a hole cut in a frozen lake.

Look what I caught!

Dad or Grandpa spent more time untangling our lines, fixing reels, and taking fish off the hook than fishing. Dad frequently was called upon to get our lines untangled from bushes and branches along the shore. I remember how patient Dad was with me and my siblings and how proud he made us feel every time we caught a fish, no matter how small.

Now that’s one proud little brother! My dad was happy to share moments like this with us.

The times out on a lake with Dad were my favorite fishing adventures. Even after I was an adult, returning to a Minnesota lake and fishing with Dad are memories I cherish.

Thanks for taking me fishing, Dad.

There is a special place on a family ranch where my daughters and their friends were always guaranteed to catch fish. They used cane poles and worms, and the children’s catch was only limited by how fast we could get the fish off the hook and the lines back into the water. My in-laws hosted several birthday parties for our children at their ranch, and every fish that was landed brought squeals of delight from their friends and shouts of “I got one!”

Our daughter fished at the family ranch.

A couple of summers ago I was able to return to a Minnesota lake and fish with my Dad. I didn’t catch the biggest fish that week, but it appeared larger if I held it out toward the camera.

Just me and my fish

I think about the fishermen that Jesus called to be his disciples.

With windblown hair and sweat on their brows, I suppose their hands smelled like fish and their clothes were wet and dirty.

Some of those disciples had fathers who also fished. I wonder if they shared fond fishing memories with their fathers or grandfathers like I do with mine?

Was fishing enjoyable for them when it was their life’s work or had it become a tedious chore? Did hauling and cleaning the heavy nets day after day leave them weary? Did they ever feel like they were in a dead-end job, like they wanted to do something bigger?

The fishermen most likely had days when the catch wasn’t very plentiful, and there were certainly days when the catch exceeded their expectations. Were the good days enough to make the days of futility bearable?

Fishermen who relied on their catch to provide for themselves and their families had to be incredibly dedicated to their livelihood. They couldn’t only fish when they felt like it or when they didn’t have something better to do. Fishing required commitment and hard work, even in inclement weather or physical exhaustion.

Catching a variety of fish called for various techniques. Some types of fish were caught with a cast net, others with a seine net, some with a trammel net, and still others with a hook. There wasn’t a one-size-fits-all method that was effective in every situation.

A disciple of Jesus Christ looks a lot like a Biblical fisherman.

Disciples (and fishermen) are ordinary, imperfect people who may not be the most glamorous or polished. Discipleship requires intentional work and is not just a hobby to do when it is convenient. Sometimes a disciple’s efforts don’t yield obvious results and other times the miraculous leaves us breathless. Disciples need to be resilient and resourceful, making adjustments in our practices in order to be more effective.

As Christian disciples we have Jesus as our teacher, role model, and encourager, demonstrating what it looks like to love others and leading us into a life of adventure.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.

Luke 5: 4-6 NRSV

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