I have never been a fan of fishing and probably never will. I just don’t get it; spend all your day sitting in a boat or standing on a shoreline waiting for that one moment when you get a bite and can reel in that monster you’ve had your eye on for years – you know, the one that always seems to get away. This is not to say that I don’t know how to fish, (dad made sure I knew how), and if I needed food I would go out and cast a line or two… and by cast a line I mean tie a string on a stick and impale a worm on a paper clip since I don’t own a proper pole or tackle.
I can remember often traipsing through the woods following some old creek with Dad just hoping to catch a brookie or two that were big enough to fry up. While I did like being out in the woods and wandering, I could not bring myself to enjoy the fishing part of it. Fish are slimy and slippery and stinky. I also did not have the stomach for cleaning them. One day after following the river behind our house, all Dad had caught were some fat old suckers – big, slimy, catfish looking creatures – bottom dwellers. He brought them home and I watched my grandma gut and skin them in her kitchen sink; I’m shuddering now just remembering it! That is an image and an odor that I will never get out of my mind – blood, guts, slime, and the smell of wet, rotting algae and mud.
I was finished on fishing when Dad came home early one spring morning from smelting. It was around 7 in the morning and there were several large buckets of the small silvery fish in the back of his truck. If you had dumped them out into the bed of the truck they would easily have been about 3 inches deep of little flapping fish (I may be exaggerating a bit…but there were a lot of fish here!) He gave me instructions to clean them all and chop their heads off and save them in a separate bucket so mom could boil them for stew later; (ugh…that would be our dinner later tonight…fish stew!) He said he was going to go inside and wash up and he wanted me to get started. He did not come back to help. I spent the morning slicing and dicing fish parts, sure to keep the cleaned fish separate from the guts and heads. It was disgusting, especially the ones that hadn’t spawned yet or had just eaten a smaller fish. The smell became horrendous as the morning sun rose on the truck bed of dead fish. By noon all the fish were cleaned and I felt and smelled like one of them. I decided right then that they were the last fish I would ever clean. And they have been.
Given my view of fishing, I have often tried to make sense of the Good Lord’s admonition that we be “fishers of men”. We are to throw our nets out into the deep and haul in a catch that is overflowing. Catching is one thing, the cleaning process is often more difficult. Those who have been ‘caught’ are often stinky and slimy and slippery. Many of them have bellies full of lies and misunderstanding that they spread about calling it truth. Then there are those few who have had the younger or weaker for lunch and then gone about the school, looking for dinner. How are we supposed to make them clean and proper and presentable to the Lord?
Cleaning the lost is not our job. It is not our job to point out faults and failures or draw attention to the sin, or heaven forbid, chop off their heads and boil them up for supper. It is our job to love the sinner and pray for them. It is our responsibility to provide a safe harbor for the Holy Spirit to work in. And it is our obligation to extend mercy and offer forgiveness. He has done so much for us…we can do no less for them.