Gospel Fishing – Introduction

Gospel Fishing – Introduction

Gospel Fishing – Introduction.

“Follow Me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17).

Fishing was not for recreation back in 1st century Israel. It was vital to daily life. Fishing provided the food supply for the masses, and so it was an important business, a critical profession for many. Fishermen were blue-collar workers doing what everybody needed and were often unwilling to do because of the hard work. Fishermen humbly plied their trade night after night, for fishing was not done during the day. They hoped each day to catch enough fish to sell in the market and feed their family and make ends meet. People knew they were dependent on fishermen, but they weren’t exactly full members of the upper class and religious establishments. Fishermen were recognized as being physically tough, able to work through the night shift with unpredictable results. Fishermen were thus persistent, patient, dedicated, and preferred working alone or with a partner. They had to grab whatever sleep they could find during the day.

Most fishing done during that era was with a net. The fishing nets were circular, with heavy weights around the perimeter so it would sink into lower waters where the fish were usually hiding. Fishermen would either stand on the shore and repeatedly cast their nets into the water, or they would take their boats out and drop the nets where they thought the fish might be. They would have to know the waters well, the desired fishing spots, and their success often depended on their well-earned instincts in order to locate the fish. The Gospels often mention the fishermen cleaning their nets. This was a necessary burden for them. It was tedious, dirty and unpleasant. But they had to clean their nets, a duty of all responsible and successful fishermen. If they didn’t, the nets would rot, and if they left the seaweed, twigs and other detritus from the Lake, the fish would easily see the net the next time they threw the nets in the water. Fishermen don’t catch fish with dirty nets.

The Gospels are full of fishing stories, naturally, because so much of daily life centered on finding, catching, cleaning, and eating fish. Jesus spent most of His time around the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s major fishing locale. His home base was the village of Capernaum, located right on the shore of the Sea. It is inevitable that many miracles and major events occurred at the Sea, which is actually a very large lake. Jesus walked on its waters, preached from boats on the shore, calmed its storms. And the Sermon on the Mount was proclaimed on a small hill on the lake shore. Many scholars even claim that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Lake. Many of the disciples were called away from their fishing occupations on the shore. In fact, it appears that eight out of the twelve Disciples were fishermen. Jesus appeared to want some elbow room in His ministry, so He healed and taught on or near the Lake for a majority of the time. This way He could stay away from the political and religious centers of Israel in Jerusalem.

The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberius and Lake Gennesaret, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. The Lake is also called “Kinneret” because it is shaped like a violin. The lake has a surface area of 64 square miles, roughly the size of Washington, D.C. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, and is 150 feet at its deepest point. With those rather small fishing boats of that time, with those meager sails, it would take a boat about two hours to cross the lake. The lake is surrounded by hills, and so the wind patterns tend to be unpredictable. Fishermen are subject to sudden windstorms and the turbulence that comes with that. So all the fishermen knew how to read the sky to anticipate when these squalls might occur. It’s interesting that the Lake is fished to this very day, appreciated for its 27 different species of fish. All the fish taken out of the Lake are kosher, except for the catfish.

Gospel fishing in the Lake: endless opportunities for Jesus’ teachable moments; a place to find tough men who are patient, persistent, responsible and instinctive; an honorable profession and a comfortable community for Jesus and His disciples; a locale where miracles are enacted; a likely place for Jesus to call home.

Is it any wonder that an important symbol for the Christian in those early days was the fish sign? The Greek word for fish was “icthus“. So the early believers decided to make a mini-sermon, a mini-confession of faith, with those letters. The first letters of “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” spell out icthus. And so the sign of the fish became a directional to where the Christians were meeting. We still see the fish symbol today, and perhaps when we see that sign we can remember some of the Gospel stories to follow.