Cast Your Net On The Other Side
In John 21 we read of Jesus directing the disciples on their fishing methods from the shore at the Sea of Tiberias. If you will recall, this is the period after Jesus rose from the dead. It is also after the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread during which the disciples would have remained in Jerusalem. They now return to the challenges of everyday life by going fishing in Galilee.
Fishing was often done at night (Luke 5:5; John 21:3) due to the fact that the night’s catch could be sold fresh in the morning market. However, in the story recorded by John, the disciples did not catch any fish. From the shore, a Man commands them to try fishing from the right side of the boat (John 21:6). Unbeknownst to His own disciples, this Man is the resurrected Jesus (John 21:4). Despite their failure to recognise Jesus, the disciples followed His instructions and their fortunes were reversed. Of course, by this stage, it is day (John 21:4) and fishing is not usually undertaken during the day. To seasoned fishermen, the suggestion that they go out onto the Lake during the day and simply fish from the other side of the boat seems preposterous. How could it possibly make any difference?
In nautical terms, the right side is the starboard side. The word comes from the Old English steorbord meaning the “side on which a vessel was steered”. Unlike modern craft that utilise centreline runners, the steering apparatus in first century vessels was placed on the right side of ships because most seamen were right-handed. Since the starboard side was the right side, it was impractical to position the right side of the boat against a pier when in port. Hence the left side of the boat became known as the port side. It is believed that first century fishermen would seldom have fished the right side of the boat because they might tangle the nets and consequently lose their catch.
Why does John include this detail? Many times, we value tradition. If tradition is connected to truth, it is a worthy pursuit. However, when I view a situation, I always ask myself, is it tradition or truth? If it is one or the other, truth must be pursued over tradition. In the Gospel account, we see professional fishermen alter their course based upon the unsolicited advice of Someone who has not demonstrated expertise (remember they did not recognise it was Jesus until they returned to shore). Yet, the command of Christ may call for the unusual – even something that goes against all known tradition. The disciples found that when they allowed the risen Jesus to change their old fishing habits, they received an abundant catch.
I want you to notice that Jesus did not ask them to change the direction of their boat (symbolising their vision for catching the fish) but only the side on which they fished. Jesus did not admonish the disciples for returning to their old way of fishing. Instead, He offers them a small but significant transformation. Think of it as a twist on the old way that has huge results.
As Pastors, we cannot be everything to the church. But as a church, we can be everything to each other – that is why God put us together. That is also why the Holy Spirit recently spoke to us about brotherly love. We all have a responsibility to love and care for one another, setting aside any critical spirit in order to co-operate for the sake of glorifying God and following His commands.
The ministry team is keenly aware that our worship service must be conducted in truth, led by the Holy Spirit in order to glorify God and edify the saints. Changes made are not there to please the world or make church more “appealing”. Rather, we rely on the Holy Spirit to direct us in those areas where we need to “cast the net on the right side”. We understand that change can be fearful. However, please be mindful that we are not given to a spirit of fear. Fear is of the enemy; faith is of the Lord.
There are untold numbers of “fish” in our community. As they are not jumping into our boat (ie they are not walking into our worship building), we need to be praying that the Lord will show us how to more effectively cast our nets in order to reach those who desperately need Him. We need to be a going church for a coming Lord. The missional church engages and inhabits the culture while seeking to remain separate from its sin and sinful structures. Jesus Christ was a thoroughly Jewish, first-century Man who engaged believers, doubters, scoffers, friends and foes, yet never sinned. He was truly in the world without being of the world. We can engage the greedy without becoming greedy, the hateful without becoming hateful and the proud without becoming prideful. The existence of temptation should not hinder us from missional living. Instead, we are to be a culturally relevant, counter-culture community living for Jesus. The seed of the Gospel must be sown in the soil of the culture, which necessitates Christians being engaged in the culture. Scripture calls us salt and light and that requires presence and proclamation. In other words God does not want us hiding in our churches, but living as witnesses for His glory and for the sake of the Gospel.