Last week we had the expression, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Jesus was talking to Nathaniel and he was saying, “I know you are a man of the Torah.” That’s what being under the fig tree means, “gathering figs” is a reference to Torah study. Nathaniel understood that.
This week we have another interesting expression. This time it has to do with fishing. There are two things we have to understand about this metaphor: The first is that the kind of fishing that the disciples did was usually done at night or in the early hours of the morning when most people were sleeping. That’s a mysterious time when spirits might be about and the boundary between sleeping and wakefulness is thin. The other thing we have to remember is that you never do know what lurks below the surface. I am not talking about sea creatures. I am talking about the things that lurk beyond our conscious mind, the things we can’t see in the clear light of day, but which make themselves known in darkness and mystery.
Whether sitting under the fig tree or casting your nets, you can’t be sure what will come to you. Sometimes in Torah study, or in sitting quietly with God in the night, things come to us that we don’t expect. And it’s that to which we are all called: the unexpected.
The disciples left a life of certainty. If you fish, if you take care of your gear, if you are a good businessman, then your life will go a certain way. It was part of the social contract. Do what you are supposed to do, and you can be pretty sure of the outcome. When they left their nets, they didn’t stop being fishermen, but they left that sort of certainty behind.
Today the social contract is wearing pretty thin. There are no guarantees, even if you do everything right. As followers of Jesus, though, our mission has not changed. We are fishers! We are still supposed to cast our nets deep down into the unknown sea of humanity, and into our own hearts, and see what comes up.
We are not expecting fish because it’s not that kind of sea. But, what will we find in the deeps?
In more certain times, you might be pretty sure of what you’d haul in. Instead of fish, or the great American dream, though, you may haul up a net full of knowledge and its concomitant responsibility, or a net full of questions, or fear, or fully-justified anger. You might haul up a net full of problems and blessings all yet to be sorted. You just never know what lies beneath the surface! But today Jesus calls us to this different kind of fishing trip.
When you are out fishing, spending quiet time alone with God, what comes up for you? Do you have questions, fears? Are you angry? What else is there? Whatever it is, it’s OK. We’ve been called to fish, remember, not to deal brilliantly with everything that comes up out of the sea. You might even need help with whatever you haul up from the sea of your heart. If there are monsters down there, you should call for help! If there’s sadness, tend to it, but, be gentle. You are precious and sometimes fragile. If you’re angry, well, who wouldn’t be? Try to turn your anger into action and power. Have you got a net full of blessings? Great! You have more to share. How fortunate you are. Whatever you’ve got, give praise to Allah! You are no longer fishing for mere fish, but you are fishing in the great and mysterious sea of God and who knows what’s down there!
Linda McMillan lives in al Quarayyat, al Jouf province, Saudi Arabia where life is not always easy and nobody is fishing!
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Allah is another name for God. It is not the name of the Islamic God, or the Saudi God, it is another name for the one Lord God who made Heaven and Earth and all that has ever been made. There is only one God. Don’t worry, I will never steer you into the path of another God. Since there is only one, that would be impossible anyway. I would, however, like us to be aware of this name and to remember that Muslims – for all their little quirks – have the exact same God as the rest of us.
I am severely internet limited and I’m not able to look up any interesting articles or references for you this week. I am sorry for that. You know, though, that I read the Social Science Commentary a lot. I read Amy-Jill Levine, I read Rashi constantly. I mean, we’ve been doing this for a few years, so you know where I get my information. Who knows, maybe this week YOU’LL look up the references. If you do, be sure to post them for the others.
I take strength from knowing that you all are under the fig tree with me.