'But Lord, Can We Still Go Fishing?'
The Gospel narratives that depict Jesus calling the disciples to follow him are inspirational. Here are ordinary men going about their business. Jesus approaches them, and he beckons them to leave everything and follow him. Amazingly, they seem to do just that. They leave everything—immediately, actually—and follow Jesus. Their willingness to depart at the very word of this man whom they seemingly know nothing about gives us the courage to try and do the same.
But for most of us, leaving immediately, and leaving everything, rarely happens. We count the cost, we measure our losses, we look at the benefits, and we usually hesitate and waver under the immensity of the calling. Our own response to the call of the Good Shepherd is rarely ever so dramatic and definitive. Leaving everything is quite scary, and it is quite difficult.
Part of the difficulty of answering the call of Jesus is discerning what is the everything to which Jesus is referring. There is no easy answer to this question, and it likely is different for each person. Certainly it seems that Jesus wants us to leave everything that might distract us from a single-hearted devotion to him. He desires that we try our best to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength. And yet it seems that Jesus still wants us to be ourselves—for it has to be us, working with God’s grace, of course—who respond to his call.
It is not irrelevant, then, that Jesus equates the ministry of the disciples to something they already know and enjoy: fishing. Jesus uses an activity that has been an integral part of the disciples’ lives, and he transforms it in his calling of the disciples. They did not have to leave fishing: from that point on, they were going to be fishers of all humanity.
More often than not, when God calls people to follow him in the priesthood and religious life, he seems to find a way to use the gifts, talents and even hobbies of those whom he calls by transforming them for his own purposes. Therefore, one who loves music might end up supporting a church’s choir, one who loves teaching might end up in charge of an RCIA course, and one who loves baseball might end up a coach or a chaplain for a local team.
Jesus knew that fishing was part of the identity of the disciples. He was sensitive in calling them to use their talents and life experiences to enhance their ministry.We can trust that he knows us all well, too. He is not going to ask us to give up something that might likely be used for the advancement of his kingdom. He takes the goodness of who we are—from our gifts, talents and even our hobbies—and he transforms them, using them for his purposes.
This is why the disciples were still able to go fishing, albeit in a transformed way!