“He said to them,
‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
Metaphors can be powerful. They catch the imagination and provide piercing insights. They have their limits, however, and usually break down if taken to the extreme or held as the primary or only perspective. They can illuminate, but can also obfuscate by eliminating other perspectives or models of an issue or idea. Jesus used similes and metaphors for the positive value of insight while being little concerned about the limitations. Really, that’s how we all use them. It’s only under analysis that we can explore the positive and negative aspects of a particular metaphor. The process of analysis can provide greater clarity as we wrestle with an issue. We can even learn something when a metaphor breaks down.
The metaphor “fishers of men” has, of course, been tied to the call of the first disciples, but it has also been connected to missionary activity, vocations to the priesthood, and evangelization. Many have been inspired to leave their homes, travel to far off lands, and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Many have also been inspired to change the direction of their lives and discern a call to ordained ministry and service in the church. Likewise, many have been inspired to overcome fear and witness about God’s love and work in their lives to family and friends. Some scholars have begun to question the universal application of this metaphor. Perhaps it was meant only for Peter and Andrew, they posit. If they had been farmers, perhaps Jesus would have said, “I will make you sowers of the word.” Or, if they had been carpenters, maybe he would have said, “I will make you builders of the kingdom.” It could have applied only to Peter and Andrew because of who they were. Nonetheless, as with so much of scripture, the meaning can be revealed on multiple levels, at various times, and in deeply personal ways. Even with its limitations, I think it can speak powerfully to us here and now.
The metaphor is important, but more important is the first part, “Come after me.” Most translations use “follow” or “come, follow” for this verse. “Come after me” gives a bit more of the imperative original in the Greek. Do this! Come after me! Pursue me! It is not so much of a polite invitation, but a passionate plea or, even, command. There is transformational energy to it. Let go of what lies behind and press in to what lies ahead! The metaphor is dependent upon the changed life, new direction, and passionate encounter with Jesus. Becoming a fisher of men is the result of going after, following, Jesus. More than that, it is Jesus who does the work, “I will make you.” We see here an essential dynamic: Jesus calls, we respond, Jesus works, and we are given a mission. Invitation leads to decision, which leads to grace, which leads to purpose. Jesus calls us, pleads with us, invites us, commands us, and loves us. He is yearning for us. Come after me! Will we? How do we respond? Can we let go? Chart a new direction? Change? Move? Trust? This is our part, our first part. God never forces our hand. It’s up to us.
Once we say yes, God’s work begins in earnest. God’s transforming grace comes to us in our prayer, study, action, and relationships. Personal prayer and the sacraments open our hearts more fully to God’s love. The scriptures and tradition enlighten our minds to God’s truth. Serving the poor, wounded, naked, and imprisoned conform our lives to God’s mercy and justice. Being part of a community supports us on the journey and challenges us to be authentic. All of this work in us, however, isn’t just for us. We have a purpose, a mission, a direction, and a goal. We live for others. We live for the lost, lonely, searching, seeking, confused, abused, troubled, and forgotten people on God’s heart. “He cries, he weeps, he bleeds” for them. This is our part, too. We are sent. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”