Saturday, April 16, 2005

Good Fish, Bad Fish

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad."
This parable gives me trouble. The eschatological ending (which I've omitted for the moment) doesn't square with my understanding of Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God. I expect to find in every parable an application for the here-and-now.

Things start out well for me. The net is cast into the sea and catches fish of every kind. This I like. It speaks to me of the universal (catholic!) nature of the kingdom of God. We're sent into the world to offer our gifts indiscriminately.

But then "they" start sorting the fish, putting the "good" in a basket and throwing the "bad" out. What can this mean? Maybe it would help to go back for the ending.

"So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
This draws to mind Jesus' other story of a great sorting at the end of the age, in Matthew 25, when the sheep and the goats are separated based on how the have treated the naked, the hungry, the strangers and the imprisoned. Does that help?

Maybe a little.

It could be that I just don't want to hear this parable. It's a parable of judgment any way I slice it. If I think about the fishing scene, it's all too clear. You bring in the fish, but you don't want them all. I'd have to file this parable under the "many are called, but few are chosen" heading.

One thing that jumps out at me in this parable is the contrast between the fish that were caught ("every kind") and the way they were sorted ("good" and "bad"). The thing it says to me is that fish aren't kept for being the right "kind" nor tossed out for being the wrong kind. It's one of the uglier aspects of human nature that we seem to want to always draw lines dividing who's in from who's out, whether those lines be drawn across boundaries of race, religion or sexual orientation. We always like to know who constitutes "us".

But this parable gives the lie to that sort of thinking. The kingdom of God is like a net that catches fish of every kind. The New Testament tends to be concerned with breaking down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. We Christians, having apparently forgotten the point altogether, went on to make a nearly identical line between Christians and non-Christians. And now we want to divide things according to who are the right kind of Christians.

Well this parable does indeed say that Christians should be concerned about being the right kind of Christian. "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel." In fact, that's where the link I drew to the parable of the sheep and the goats comes in.

The kingdom of God has gathered us all, like fish in a dragnet. Christ has called us, saying, "Follow me." Now, if we are truly to live in the kingdom of God, we must follow.

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