Evangelism: Becoming Fishers of Men

Second Sunday After Pentecost                            Gospel: Matthew 4:18-23

As the Lord walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  (Matthew 4:18-19)

Christ commanded His disciples to become fishers of men – to do the work of evangelism. In the writings of the holy fathers we find this advice for those considering undertaking evangelism:

“If you would talk to others concerning eternal life, be ready to show you are willing to suffer for the word, speak humbly with repentance, weeping for your own sins, and choosing carefully with whom you speak: a person who is willing not just to listen but to do the word. If you do not do these things, then it is better not to speak at all, lest you die and depart without profit from the words with which you hoped to vivify others. Remember, God is going to ask any sinners who quote Him, “who are you to speak the words of my covenant which are written in the Scriptures?” (adapted from THE PARADISE OF THE FATHERS)

Evangelism as being “fishers of men”:

Fishermen worked in groups – several men in a boat, often co-operating with partners in other boats.  Evangelism is a co-operative enterprise.  It isn’t meant for people who like to go at it alone (Jesus sent out the apostles in teams of two) or for people who like to make a name for themselves alone.  The nature of Christian evangelism is to bring others into the community of “fishers of men.”  We are constantly growing the community of people willing to co-operate in living together according to the Gospel teachings.  We are trying to bring others into the Body of Christ so that we can live and work together in serving Christ, one another and the Gospel.   The “fishers of men” analogy of Christ is speaking to us about a corporate, even commercial, venture, where we must work together in order to survive in the world.

To change from fishermen to fishers of men is to change our value system completely.  Fishermen are in the work to make a profit in this world, fishers of men are working for the Kingdom of God, without regard to the profitability of their work.

We all who have come into the net of the apostles – all who attend church, are to become fishers of men as well.  We are to join the apostles in their work, not just expect them to do the work for us.  The fishers of men imagery opposes a sense that we who enter into the church are to be passive recipients of what the apostles, or the experts, or the professionals or the clergy or the hierarchy do.   The fishers of men are looking for fellow humans to join them, not fish to train or devour!   We who come into the net spread by the apostolic work, are not fish but humans and we are to behave as such in the church.

Fishing as a commercial enterprise also means discernment – not everything that gets into the fishermen’s nets is equally valuable or good.  We are looking for humans, not fish, and so we have to be perceptive about those who are ready to hear the Gospel and those who are ready to come into the Church to themselves share in the fishers of men ministry.   Christ’s very invitation to the first disciples was to follow Him in order to be made into fishers of men.  The invitation to become “fishers of men” was the appeal of becoming a disciple of Christ from the beginning.   Our following Christ is not just self-serving (so I can get to the kingdom), but rather so that I can serve Christ by becoming part of the community who are fishers of men.

As fishers of men, we don’t need to travel to distant lands, for there are plenty of people all around us for us to do our work.  We all are to share in this ministry – to support one another in doing this work, to cooperate with each other.  The main tool of our fishing labor is love – love for God and for one another.  This is why it is possible for every Christian to do this work.