gone fishin’

This photo is the beach on the Sea of Galilee near Genneserat, where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. This story illustrates the competing yet complementary relationship between creation and redemption, our human and Christian lives.

A week or so after the resurrection, when seven of the disciples were hanging out, Peter said, “‘I’m going out to fish’…. and they said, ‘We’ll go with you’” (John 21:3). How could Peter and the disciples fish at a time like this? Well, it gave them something to do. Even more, it was what they did. They were fishermen. They could sit around in a windowless room and wait for the risen Christ to appear, or they could wait while they fished. They were fishermen, so they went to sea.

The disciples’ creational calling as fishermen was relativized by the risen Christ. Peter knew Someone who was far more important than fishing, so I doubt it bothered him much when he fished all night and caught nothing. It might be nice to catch something and make a little money, but it certainly wasn’t necessary. Jesus was alive! Sin and death had been defeated forever, and just last week! Everything else was gravy. This is why, when Peter realized whom the man was who told them to cast their nets on the other side, he left their bulging nets behind, leaped into the water and splashed to his Lord.

The risen Christ not only relativizes our callings, but he also reclaims them. Once the boat had beached, Jesus told Peter to bring some of the fish they had caught, so Peter “climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn” (John 21:11).

Jesus doesn’t take away our callings; he empowers us to thrive in them. Notice that these devoted disciples never stopped being fishermen. They were thrilled to be in the presence of Jesus, the Friend and Savior they had seen only twice since his resurrection, yet someone kept the presence of mind to count the fish—all 153! Does it matter how many fish you’ve caught when you’re rejoicing in the glory of Jesus? It does if you’re a fisherman.

Jesus used their fish to serve breakfast, an act of hospitality that set the table for his reconciliation with Peter. While the callings of creation and redemption are distinct, they mutually serve each other in the unified reign of Jesus. And yet they are distinct. The kingdom of God is Jesus’ rightful rule over his world as its Creator and Redeemer. As Creator, Jesus commands all people to govern this world on his behalf, managing the animals and developing nature’s raw materials into a flourishing culture (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). As Redeemer, Jesus commands his followers to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).

These dual commands mean that Christians inhabit the kingdom as dual citizens. As humans we are citizens of this world, so we join our non-Christian neighbors to improve education, the economy, and the environment. We vote and volunteer in our community because we realize, as the anthem from High School Musical says, “We’re All In This Together” (The chorus continues: “And it shows when we stand, hand in hand, make our dreams come true!” This last, hyperventilating phrase seems to be required in all Disney songs). Like the Jewish exiles in Babylon, we obey God’s command to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” and “pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

As Christians, we remember the kingdom is not of this world, and for that reason is able to save it. We celebrate the kingdom’s central focus on redemption when we gather as the body of Christ to hear God’s Word, receive the Sacraments, and respond with worship, prayers, and communion with God’s people. The church is the headquarters of God’s kingdom on earth, the main way his rule is honored and advanced in the world. And since God’s reign includes both creation and redemption, it is not surprising to find the church addressing both of these, but in different ways.

To learn more, see chapters 18 and 19 in Becoming Worldly Saints.

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