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The Parable of the Trawling Net


The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Matthew 13:47-53. Jesus said....
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
In this parable Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a trawling net that fishermen would often use on the Sea of Galilee. Such a net would take in many things when let down into the sea. Later on, the fishermen would sort through their catch by the seashore, casting aside the worthless fish and saving the "keepers". Jesus says this is what it is going to be like at the end of the age. The angels will do the sorting of the righteous and the wicked--throwing the latter into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In other words, there are some who appear to be in the kingdom now, they have been caught in the net, but in the end it will be clear that they don't really belong to the kingdom of heaven; they aren't "keepers".

Jesus asks his disciples whether they have understood these three parables and they answer affirmatively. Jesus tells them that every teacher of the law, or scribe, who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

Jesus himself is such a teacher of the law. He tells stories the people are familiar with, but he adds a new twist. Jesus urges his disciples to teach a similar blend of the old and the new. In fact, Matthew himself exemplifies this Jesus-style of teaching. He is constantly quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures and showing how Jesus fulfilled them; Matthew presents us with old and new treasures. He even structures his Gospel around five pillars of Jesus' new teaching, intentionally reminding us of the five old books of Moses, the Torah. This chapter of parables, Matthew 13, represents the central pillar of Jesus' teaching and the turning point of Matthew's Gospel.

When Jesus finished these parables he went to his hometown of Nazareth and taught in the synagogue. However, unlike the disciples, the people in the synagogue did not welcome Jesus' teaching. "How could this hometown boy have anything to teach us?" they asked. Because of their lack of faith Jesus could not do many miracles there.

The people in the synagogue in Nazareth did not respond to Jesus' teaching as though it was a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price. They didn't receive it with joy; they did not give everything they had to be part of Jesus' kingdom movement. As a result, they lost out. Jesus did not do many miracles there.

The people in the synagogue appeared to be part of the kingdom; they were caught in the net; they were faithful attendees, listening to the Scriptures read every Sabbath. But I think Jesus' parables would suggest that is not enough. There are many people now, many faithful church attendees who would seem to be part of Jesus' kingdom, but in the end it will be revealed that they have not responded to Jesus' message with joy; they have not given all they have to possess the kingdom of heaven.

Many people say they wish they could go back and live in the time of Jesus. If they could just have met him personally (they think) then they would believe. But the people of Nazareth, those with the greatest access to Jesus, did not believe.

Can you imagine being there in the synagogue in Nazareth and missing it--missing the joy of discovering who Jesus really was?

On January 12, 2007, world famous violinist, Joshua Bell, played his three million dollar Stradivarius for forty-five minutes in a Washington D. C. metro station. Hundreds of people passed by Bell that day not even realizing who he was, barely pausing to listen to the exquisite strains of Mozart and Schubert. After all, the young man was only dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He had his violin case open for people to cast change into it, just like every other musician in the metro trying to make a little cash to get by.

It was all part of a project arranged by The Washington Post. According to the Post it was "an experiment in context, perception, and priorities--as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend? It didn't. I watched a clip of the event on You Tube. Hundreds passed by. Only a few stopped to listen. And out of those few I only saw one who recognized Bell for the famous violinist he was.

Just three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out Boston Symphony Hall, with ordinary seats going for $100. In the metro, Bell garnered about $32 from the 27 people who stopped long enough to give a donation.

In a similar way, the people of Nazareth didn't recognize Jesus for who he really was. They didn't even pause long enough to hear the beautiful strains of music, to capture the kingdom vision Jesus was casting.

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