In this week’s Gospel Jesus says to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Spoken in the context of a great and miraculous draught of fish, this will become the work of Christ’s Church—catching men.
Imagine you are a fish, and suddenly you are caught in a net. A terrible fate awaits you…at least terrible for a fish if indeed it could think in such terms. You are quickly taken from your comfortable watery realm, removed into an unknown waterless world where you cannot breathe, carried into a world in which you cannot move and thus cannot escape, in which you will soon be heartlessly butchered and eaten. Who would want to be thus whisked into such a world of helplessness and death?
Now imagine that the worlds are reversed. You are actually living in a world where you cannot breathe, where your surroundings are utterly polluted with misery, where you are unable to do anything to extricate yourself, where there is violence and death within and without. A net now descends, lowered by a benevolent Being, and you are drawn out of your breathless, helpless, violent and dying realm. The net gently brings you into a world where you can breathe, even though you have never known what this is like; where you are able to move freely, even though you have never known this before; where you are treated with love and kindness, even though you have never really realized this before; where, though it seems impossible, you will not die forever, but you will live into eternity. You have been caught in the net of Christ, the net cast by Christ through His Church. You have been brought into the kingdom of God, a realm that has never even been imagined by sinful man, a realm that gives one meaning and purpose.
Is there such a net and a kingdom to which we can be caught and carried? Indeed! This is why the Son of God became flesh, becoming, as it were, a fish in a helpless and violent realm; that, coming from heaven, He would be caught in mankind’s net of mischief, misery and malevolence. And being thus caught in this nasty net He would be mercilessly murdered, made breathless, and be caught and carried into the realm of the dead. This fabulous fish, the Lord Jesus Christ, would burst forth from the heretofore never escaped realm of the dead. No net or realm could hold Him. Unbeknownst to the world, both His death and His resurrection were His purpose and goal, for from these He would create not only the saving net of the Gospel, but the wondrous realm into which people can be caught and carried.
The net of the Gospel has a wondrously woven warp and woof. The nailing of Jesus to the cross, like the nailing of a fish to a board to be scaled and butchered, becomes the warp of the net of the Gospel, for at the cross the mischief, malevolence and all sins of man were atoned for. And His glorious resurrection, guaranteeing justification and life eternal, becomes the woof of this net. So powerfully are these two acts of Jesus woven together that this net is rendered unbreakable and capable of catching and carrying millions out of this veil of tears. This Gospel net has now become the power of God unto salvation. It is the net of the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection, the net that can and does catch and carry fallen fishy people into the realm created by Christ’s two awesome acts. This net is continually cast by the Church of Christ. As people, out of the depths of their law-exposed sin cry to God, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” the Lord commands His Church, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” with the result that such penitents are lovingly caught and carried via this watery net work into His holy ark, the Church. In the Church we are in Christ’s realm, His kingdom. Even before we enter heaven the Gospel net has caught and carried us into a kingdom in which we can breathe, having been given breath by the Holy Spirit. We are caught and carried into the realm of the freely flowing forgiveness and the inseparable love of God, a realm created and founded on this death and resurrection of Jesus. And we know that this kingdom will merge with the eternal kingdom—a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness and peace shall dwell forever.