Saturday, December 4, 2021 2 comments

Toward Greater Inclusion: Re-examining the Gospel Net Parable of Matthew 13:47-50


I was reading my scriptures today, particularly in Matt 13, reminding myself of some of Christ’s parables, when I ran across v47, which made me ponder.


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:

Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:47-50)


There is no explanation for this parable, unlike that of the wheat and the tares. And it is really short, so it’s almost like it is expected that the reader will understand it without too much trouble.  


And yet, beyond the pretty obvious message of judgment and the fact that the plight of the wicked is highlighted when they are removed, it is hard to know why Christ thought it was necessary to tell this in addition to the parable of the wheat and the tares.  I felt like there had to be something more in this that I had overlooked.  These parables are supposed to share the mysteries of the kingdom, after all.


I started thinking about the process of catching fish with a net. Is the kingdom of heaven like a net used in fishing?  Honestly, I don’t really know because I’m so far removed from anything like that.  It seems like fish don’t just jump willy-nilly into the gospel net through missionary work unless they are super-spiritually-prepared. I’ve grown up in the gospel net and I’ve chosen to stay in it.  I’ve heard of some life-long members who might feel like they are “caught” or “trapped” in the Church’s net though.


Something that caught my attention in the parable was the phrase “gathered of every kind.” I have seen short clips of movies of workers on fishing boats sorting through a catch of fish, picking out the types of fish they want.  That made me wonder with relation to the parable--what happens to the types of fish they don’t want?  What if the fishermen catch a jellyfish, for instance?  Is that a marketable product, or do they throw that out?  What if the fishermen in this parable don’t want jellyfish? 


That’s when I noticed that in this parable Christ doesn’t necessarily talk about the fish-sorting people being particular about the kind of fish they want. He only tells of them distinguishing between “good” and “bad.”  He speaks of the net having “gathered of every kind.”


This led to an encouraging realization—Christ wants every kind of “fish” in His kingdom. He wants jellyfish, shark, and sea anemone, right along with tuna and salmon. He wants every type.  I love that because there are times when I can get my tuna on, but there are other times when I’m a crazy sea cucumber, letting my freak flag fly, and that’s the best I can do.  But if Christ will accept my sea cucumber, I’ll be the best darn sea cucumber I can be.


Something else I noticed is what happens to the fish. We might make the assumption that the good fish of the parable are sold in the market for other people to eat, but they’re actually not. They are actually “gathered…into vessels.”  But what for? What happens to them? 


This might make you laugh, but the only thing I could imagine those vessels might be was—an aquarium collection!  If they were to be eaten, the fish could just be in baskets, but “vessels” implies some kind of pot that can hold water and thus keep a fish alive. Even though we don’t visualize Bible people having aquariums back then, an aquarium actually makes perfect sense.  Because if the fish are gathered in vessels for an aquarium, then the fish stay alive, and they are fed and stay safe, and they don’t have to worry about other fish eating them out in the big scary sea where big fish are always eating little fish. The aquariums are a safe, nourishing place.


So of course the aquarium-owner wants every kind of fish! He loves them all! He wants to see the best specimens of every kind of fish out there. (This is kind of like Finding Nemo, but in reverse…)


So maybe this parable is teaching us that we don’t have to worry about fitting to some stifling cultural norm that doesn’t take into account our various personalities and quirks. The only thing we have to worry about is being the best we can be according to God’s commandments. And maybe this parable was meant to teach church leaders to appreciate the good manta rays along with the good trout and bass so they don’t throw them out just because they don’t fit trout-and-bass expectations. It’s also a good lesson for all of us that maybe we need to be humble enough to observe each other and study each other to learn what type of “fish” we’re meeting. We may have met a very good hammerhead shark or moray eel and we just don’t know it.