Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
I went fishing last week. Fortunately, I was with a great group of friends and so I had fun.
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch anything. That part, was not fun. In the movies and in books, fishing is usually a scene that goes by very quickly. It’s either the setting for some important dialogue that further progresses the story or a shot meant to show camaraderie between two people (usually men) or it’s a metaphor for something in human nature. In Animal Planet where there’s a guy who hunts for “river monsters,” fishing is made out to be something very complex and manly. With all my worldly background in fishing, therefore, I could hardly be blamed for anticipating the event as something spectacular.
It turned out to be hardly that. Fishing, as I found out, is a lot of waiting around. It’s also a series of routines (such as putting on bait, casting the line—I’m not even sure if those are the right terms) that can be a bit of a challenge to people who are not dexterous. People like me. Fifteen minutes into it and I was already bleeding. At 20 minutes, I was whining. And at thirty, I had a profound understanding for why people resort to dynamite fishing (I still think it’s wrong, though). And as I watched my friends reel in fish after fish, my mind found its way to the comfortable world of stories and metaphors that was much more welcoming than the fish. And I remembered that quintessential biblical term of being “fishers of men.”
Jesus was a great storyteller. And whereas most people usually get straight to the meat of his message, I’ve always found myself marveling at his style. He really was, even by today’s standards, a very witty man. And I often think, that the man whom John referred to as “the WORD,” did, in fact, love words. And he also loved metaphors. So when Jesus calls to Peter, the fisherman, and asks him to become “fishers of men,” he wasn’t just playing with words. He was also playing with metaphors.
It was only when I actually tried fishing that I began to see how apt the metaphor of fishing was to evangelizing and witnessing the Gospel. Like fishing, there’s a lot of waiting involved in evangelizing. You wait for people to be ready to listen. You wait for them to ask you questions. You wait for the Spirit to inspire and the Spirit to give graces. You’re always waiting for the right time to speak and the right time to be silent. You could spend all day preaching in the streets but until the perfect opportunity where a person is ready to hear what you’re saying comes up, your preaching will be in vain.
You have to set the right bait. Small fish will not like large bait. And large fish will not go near small bait. And, according to that guy in Animal Planet, different fish like different bait. So how do you know what to do? You study them. Much like you study the people you want to evangelize. You get to know them. Their problems.Their issues.Their family. Many times, evangelization is not a public office but a private affair. Effective conversions often come from a relationship between two individuals rather than large gatherings. We are drawn to people more than we are drawn to ideas.
You have to set out into the deep. The greater the risk, the greater the chances of getting a catch. In the hour and a half that I went fishing, I did not move more than a meter from my spot. I knew that the fish were farther off but I didn’t bother going near them because I had a comfortable bench and I refused to put myself out in the sun. And so I ended up with nothing. In fishing, there are no guarantees. There is no guarantee that the fish will bite. There is no guarantee that the fisherman will not get wet, or worse, fall into the ocean/swamp/river/lake. There is no guarantee that the fishing rod will be strong enough or that the fish will not get away. Likewise, when we tell people about our faith, we put ourselves out on a limb. We open ourselves to the risk of being ridiculed and rejected. Because evangelization is such a personal process, we cannot leave ourselves out. The process is not about apologetics and theoretical debates; it’s about lives, about experiences, about people. And sometimes, we risk getting hurt.
And then there is the best part of the metaphor. I would never have gone fishing alone but I went because my friends invited me. Jesus didn’t command Peter to go “fishing” with him. Jesus invited him. That the God who created the bounty of the ocean and who could calm the storms with a word, would stoop so low as to invite a fisherman is truly a beautiful metaphor. Jesus risked being rejected (and He was, many times, in fact by Peter himself) but He did it anyway. Maybe because He wanted us to learn from Him. We are all asked to evangelize, but not many of us take up the challenge. Because it is too hard, because it is too risky or because we believe that we’re too inconsequential. But then, I think, that if Jesus can make a fisherman into a “rock” where His Church is built, he can definitely make something out of inconsequential, insecure me. Not all of us are invited to evangelize in a public stadium. Some of us are called to do it day by day, with the people we meet and often times with the people we love.
Put out into the deep—He says. Put out into the deep… Perhaps I’ll have a much better chance of evangelizing than I have of fishing.