As the sun set below the western horizon, darkness settled over the ocean like an ebony blanket. I stood on the balcony, grasping the railing and watching lightning bolts touch the water, far out to sea.
I was torn: to fish, or not to fish? That, my friends, is the real question. Then, in the back of my mind, I heard the words of the old man down at the beach, ‘When the sun goes down and the winds blow from the west, go to the fish, my son’.
He didn’t really say it like that, but when I met him earlier in the day, he appeared like a wise, angling Gandalf; a wizard with a fishing rod, not a magician’s staff. As he spoke, his eyes never left the line; his finger always on the pulse of what was happening ten metres out.
‘When you want to catch big fish, go out after it gets dark; wait for the western wind and cast your pilchards into the channel.’ He extended his hand in a wet, sandy handshake. Grasping his weather-beaten hand, I tried to look into his eyes but they were still gazing far out into the blue.
‘Thanks’, I said and turned to go.
‘Remember, just after dark.’
Later that night as the blue water turned black and the wind huffed from the west …
We cast our bait as far as possible—and wouldn’t you know it, within fifteen minutes the tailor began to run. After a quick few catches, I snagged a nice, big fish (if I were a real fisherman, I would tell you it was ‘thi-i-i-is big’ with my arms spread wide), but, because my knowledge of beach fishing was limited to what Gandalf told me half a day earlier, my line broke. Let’s just say I threw kind words into the wind where they were tossed by the ocean waves.
For the next 20 minutes, I hurried around trying to find the correct tackle—I hadn’t been prepared. Because I’d been in a hurry to get started, I’d left all of it on the third storey of the unit we were staying in. Up the stairs I went for hook, sinkers and more bait. When I got back, Elsa had twisted the line around her reel, making it impossible to use the rod. I attempted to bait up my line again, but always in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘The big school of fish is swimming by right now while we’re fussing with the equipment’.
We, the church, are like that sometimes. In a hurry to ‘be fishers of men and women’, we enter the waters unprepared for difficulties. Bolstered by success, we leave behind the things that will help us through the difficulties of Christian life. We encounter snags that snap our line of communication; we struggle to stand in the ever-shifting sand of 21st-century life; we get snarled up when we hurry too quickly to bring in men and women.
Christ has given us opportunities to bring more people into discipleship with him. It is not about finding more programs (bait) for churches; it’s not about establishing youth groups (hooks); it’s not about funding (rod and reel)—although all of these are helpful. It is about keeping your eyes on what is in front of you and keeping your finger on the pulse of what is going on around you.
To fish or not to fish? Not really a question, is it.
Reid Matthias is pastor of Green Pastures Lutheran Church, Lockrose, Queensland.