Fishing in the Sea of Galilee

by Pastor Ed Visser

[Peter & Andrew] were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matt 4:18-19

Did you ever wonder what Jesus’ disciples thought about when he called them to become ‘fishers of men?’ Today we might think in terms of rods & reels, hooks & bait. We might preach that we need to ‘lure’ people in and ‘hook’ them with the Gospel. We might visualize it as a one-on-one, individualistic task, perhaps even done in our leisure time (since fishing is a leisure time activity for most people). But a trip back to the first century and the land of Israel gives us a little different picture.

Casting Net

Fishing was hard work in Jesus’ day, not a leisurely activity. The task was done not through line-fishing but net-fishing. And while you could cast an individual net like the one above (just offshore at Tiberias), most net-fishing was done in teams. The seine net, used close to shore (Matt 13:47-50), and the trammel net, used with boats in the open water (John 21), involved great teamwork. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee involved much strain, long hours and often little results from one’s labor. Add to that the idea that the sea was considered the Abyss, the abode of Satan, and largely to be avoided, and you get the picture that fishing held different connotations than it does today.

When we think about being ‘fishers of men,’ we should think in terms of a call to teamwork among believers, each playing our own roles and contributing our own gifts. It promises not to be leisurely or showy, but hard, often unrewarding, work to “snatch” people from Satan’s hold on them. Nor can we be fussy or judgmental about who responds. In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus tells us that both good and bad fish will be netted for the kingdom; his angels (not us!) will be charged with separating the two at the end of the age.