As I sat in church (Sherwood Oaks Christian Church-Bloomington, Indiana) this past Sunday our minister, Tom Ellsworth began by talking about the origin and meaning of the word Bethsaida, which he went on to tell us meant ‘house of fishing’. He spoke about Peter, James and John who were all fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Tom described to us the passages whereby Peter and the others had come home from a long day of fishing and were in the process of finishing their day; cleaning up the boats and gear and most importantly, they were cleaning and removing any debris from the nets that they used on a daily basis.
It was at this point that I started to think to the many, many days that upon return home I have to go through my checklist of various things that I need to stow away, clean up and get ready for my next day of fishing…however, for me this is my hobby or passion and for Peter and his mates this was in fact their life, their way of making and earning a living.
Tom continued the story, telling us that not only was Peter tired from a long night…they hadn’t caught a fish, nothing-as I often say, “There was skunk on the boat”. If you have experienced a day like Peter had had then you know that all you really want to do is get all your gear packed away, get out of your wet stuff, take a nice shower…and take a moment to sit and relax and maybe start to reflect on the day (or night) you have just had. The last thing you want to do at that point is to go fishing again…but that was what Jesus asked ‘the boys’ to do. Jesus was speaking to a crowd and asked Peter if he could use his boat as a pulpit or a platform so that he could get just a bit further away from the shore-so that those who wanted to see and listen, could.
Here comes the crux of the story as Jesus asked Peter to shove off into deeper water and then he does the unthinkable-he ask them to cast their nets out into the water. Really…are you kidding me? I have cleaned my boat, removed gunk from the nets, folded and stored them and you, a carpenter ask me to cast my nets out, in the daylight? Anyone with any common sense would know that the fish would now be down very deep and it would be a waste of time…but, as Peter says (and I paraphrase), “Lord, because it is you I will do as you ask”. You know that Peter has to be thinking all sorts of other things, he is human, HE is the fisherman and he is being asked by a preacher/carpenter to do something that makes no sense…but he decides to do so as a show of respect.
So ‘Peter and the boys’ do as they’re told. Immediately they feel the tension of the ropes and being the fishermen they are they know what this means…could it be? Yes, indeed it was fish that they were feeling and not just a few-but lots of them, so many that they struggled mightily to get the nets back into the boats! It was in fact one of those moments that surpasses the fact that they had gone from no fish and no income to a point where they would surely make a great profit; they realized that their faith had been rewarded. This man known as Jesus was more than just a mere mortal.
For me, what Peter does next is actually the point to this story as he is so humbled and probably embarrassed that he says to Jesus, “Go Lord, get away from me as I am not worthy of being in your presence…I am too much of a sinner”. And of course next comes the famous words written in red, from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men”!
The rest as they say is ‘history’ and here we are some 2,000 years later…but as my Sunday went on I continued to think about Bethsaida, the House of Fishing. Us modern fishermen aren’t looking to fill our nets so that we can feed our families…but we are still faithful or possibly more hopeful, so much so that we go forward and cast our lines into streams, creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds and all in hopes of that next big fish. It is the optimism of the venture that keeps us going forward and making that ‘one-more’ casts when our shoulders are sore from hefting a ten-weight fly rod for that possible sighting of a musky, when our shins are beat up and bloody from barking them several times in water that is running muddy while in pursuit of our next trophy smallmouth, or we are simply thirsty and need a cold Gatorade but continue on down one more run looking for a brown that will put ‘a bend’ in our six weight system.
Faith yes, but optimism even more. The tug we get while stripping a streamer is what keeps us coming back and doing the same things over and over. I hope that you can go forward in your own personal fly fishing journey and create your own Bethsaida or House of Fly Fishing. Do so humbly and with an attitude of sharing with others…those that might not yet know what you have learned or might not yet have the magical fly, casting technique or special spot.
Sharing with others makes us fishers of men and might just lead others to come to know the beauty and art associated with fly fishing, truth is it might even be the needed key for someone to become a Christian. How lucky that we get to be passionate about a sport that is so rich in history and lore…best of luck with your ‘Bethsaida’ as we all Enjoy the Great Outdoors.