Gathering up the good fish is like God finding beautiful pearls.

            the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet
            that was cast into the sea
            and gathered some of every kind,
            which, when it was full,
            they drew to shore;
            and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels,
            but threw the bad away.

"So it will be at the end of the age.
The angels will come forth,
separate the wicked from among the just,
and cast them into the furnace of fire.

"There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth,
[when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God,
and yourselves thrust out.

"They will come from the east and the west,
from the north and the south,
and sit down in the kingdom of God.
And indeed there are last who will be first,
and there are first who will be last {Luke 13:28-30}]"

                                                                      Matthew 13:47-50 NKJV

                               The Fisherman God

The dragnet, also known as a seine, is a large fishing net with
floats on the top edge and weights along the bottom. These strong,
finely-meshed nets were a common sight as they lay out to dry along
the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus might have even been pointing
toward one as he spoke.

Dragnets varied in size from small ones used by a few individuals
wading in the water, to very large nets which required a team of
fishermen. Typically, the net, with towing lines attached to each end,
would be lined up between two boats out in the deep parallel to the
coastline. It formed a wall stretching from the surface of the water
often clear down to the bottom. As they pulled toward shore, the two
boats then drew the ends into an ever-tightening circle. Once the
hauling began, the motion had to be continuous. If they stopped before
the net reached the sandy beach, the fish might escape.

The job of the fishermen was not finished when they pulled their heavy
net onto the shore, because the dragnet did not discriminate. It caught
all kinds fish, those that were profitable and those that were not, plus
anything else that was in the water. So the fishermen became sorters,
saving the good ones and throwing everything else away. It was time-
consuming, smelly work; a mixture of joy and grief as each catch was
judged. The purpose of the dragnet was to secure good fish, but in the
process the fishermen had to deal with the downside, all the garbage
that came along with the good ones. When the sorting on the water's
edge was completed, the fishermen went back out to sea and repeated
the cycle all over again.

With his parables, Jesus took common, everyday scenes to show
people how the kingdom of heaven works. The most ordinary things in
life reveal the mysteries of God when we really open our eyes and ears.
Reminders of God's presence in those unseemly dragnets--who would
have guessed it!

While researching this parable, I made what to me was a fascinating
discovery. The word "good" in this story refers to the fish that were saved.
Jesus had used the very same word in the previous parable about the
merchant searching for fine, beautiful pearls. Good, fine, beautiful--it's
the same word in the original text.

Before I learned that, I did not see a connection between a man of
privilege searching for fine pearls and a parable about judgment day.
Why would one follow the other? But if we use the same word and
carry over it's meaning, then an interesting insight begins to emerge.
In our minds, God becomes a seeker. God is also looking for pearls--
good, fine, beautiful ones.

Jesus illustrated this through the dragnet. When God drags the waters
of the world--north, south, east and west--there are surprises in tow.
As soon as God's net is full and hauled in to shore, angels do the
sorting. (No, it's not up to us to decide who gets what reward, or who's
in and who's out.) The Message Bible words the final judgment scene
this way: "The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to
eat are thrown away. That's how it will be when the curtain comes
down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw
them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining,
but it won't do any good."

Our text includes a hot furnace. Throughout the Bible, fire is used
as a metaphor for judgment, along with the image of weeping and
gnashing of teeth. What a contrast that last image is to the joy of
discovering the kingdom of heaven in the previous two parables.
As we listen to this passage we can hear Jesus asking, Can't you
see it, I made it so clear! Lay the two alternatives side by side in the
sand; the choice should be obvious.

God is the eternal Fisherman, constantly out in life's waters. Amid all
the debris, there are some very good fish. They sparkle like beautiful
pearls, reflecting the light of God's smile. But the sorting process is
filled with both joy and grief. Who's crying on judgment day? Surely
those who are separated out. But I believe God cries more than
anyone, because alas, it could have all been so good.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker: There are many different kinds of nets. Name one you have used.


What is the difference between fishing with a net or using a fishhook?
            If you were a fish, which would you prefer?
            Would the tone of the story change if Jesus pictured God catching 
                        fish with a fishhook rather than a dragnet?
                                    If so, how would it be different?


Had Jesus lived in our present-day society, what images from the
workplace could he have used to explain the kingdom of heaven?
            Explain your answer.
What are some ordinary things of life which remind you of God's presence?


Do you think God "fishes" only at the end of the world, or is God "fishing"
all the time?


The Bible teaches there will be a final separation of goodness from
evil in the coming day of our Lord.
            Does this teaching frighten or encourage you?
            What are your fears concerning judgment day?
            What are some of the surprises to which Jesus alluded?


In the previous parable we talked about ourselves as the seeker.
In this parable, God is also on a search.
            What is God looking for?


Do you believe God cries?
            Name some sorrows God would have.
            If you think about God crying, how does that change the way
                        you imagine God to be?
            How might it change the way you live?


Everyone has experienced times when they felt left out. To Jesus, the
ultimate in being left out would be to see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and
all the Prophets in God's kingdom, and be shut out of their company.
            What is the worst experience of being shut out which you can think of?
            Who would you never want to be separated from?


All of Jesus' teachings and parables are a call for change?
            What do we need to do as a result of hearing this parable?

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