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by Thom Fiet
I have friends like Jesus. I am a bad fly fisherman who fishes with great fly fishermen—one who demands that he is mentally ill (this is not at all necessary), the other is a drunk (also a man of integrity and dedication in this regard). Angling in their company, stone cold sane and sober (well, sober), I have been booed for failing to hook, play, or net fish for the past thirteen years. I have endured days catching nothing while my friends catch fish eighteen inches from my derriere. I have lost flies, ripped from my leader by huge trout, only the next day to have them retrieved by my friends: “Here’s your fly, I found it in the fish’s mouth you hooked yesterday”.
Ugh. I have friends like Jesus.
In our lectionary passage for this Eastertide Sunday, we are told that somehow the disciples have managed to slip past the witch hunt going on in Jerusalem and have gone fishing, something I would recommend. It’s what they know, and after all the Sea of Tiberias runs through it. They launched out during the night, that’s when the real big ones come out to feed, or so say my friends. They kept at it until dawn. You’ve got to put in the time.
At dawn the story takes on a familiar tone for me. Out in the boat, Barney Fife, Elmer Fudd, Charlie Brown, and the other disciples are skunked. At this stage, fingers are numb, the boys have a little palsy from the cold, their mouths are rank with the taste of stale cigarettes. They are now engaged in the “what ifs,” a favorite pastime of all fishers the world over.
Then a voice is heard on the water coming from shore. There is a figure barely seen and a little ember of a fire just perceptible. Instructions come, simple, deflationary, staccato from the voice. “Throw the net to the other side.” Insulting in its simplicity.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard instructions similar to that. “You need to reach cast, you are overloading the rod, you need to mend your line, you need to smoke less and fish more, you need a smaller Humpy, you need to try a Hopper-Dropper, you need to read the water, you gotta match the hatch, you need to form a tighter loop, you need to play the fish longer, you need to play the fish shorter…”
This time, it worked. The boys haul in a great shoal of fish. All fishers know the joy of success, even if guide service from a landlubber Messiah was needed. I tell you the truth: insult instantly dissolves into elation when a fish is in the net. You could hear Saint Gomer Pyle a mile away: Shazaam!
Some synapse in the brain of Peter explodes: It is the Lord. He throws himself overboard, performing a perfect Jonah jackknife and leaves Fudd, Gomer, and the other Saints of the Living God for the Voice.
They all get together on the shore. The Lord has breakfast ready for them. Believe me, nothing tastes better than a meal on streamside or shoreside after a long siege of fishing. The palsy goes out of you after a meal like that. And there they all are, smoking Camels together, laughing, telling the story, each adding an embellishment about the ones that didn’t get away, just as they themselves are now caught in and caught up in a fish story no one would believe.
But I believe it, because I have friends like Jesus.
Thom Fiet is pastor at Lyall Memorial Federated Church, located in Millbrook, New York