Fishing without bait: May 24, 2020

May 25, 2020

Year A, Easter 7                                                                     

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11                                                                                   

“Fishing troubles”
            One of the things we tried with Joshua early on in the quarantine was fishing.   Neither my husband nor I fish so we had no intention of actually using bait and there was no way we were giving him something with a sharp hook at the end.   But still, I thought that casting might be fun for him.  And it was for awhile.  He liked to try to get it as far as possible.  When we were in the backyard, his goal was the roof of the garage.  He also seemed to find particular joy when he could get it tangled in a tree.  When we went to the beach, he had fun, but became frustrated that he did not catch anything.  While I do not fish, I knew that the reason he was not catching anything was that there was no hook and no bait.  But even if he had a hook, I was pretty sure he would not catch anything because he didn’t leave the line in the water for long. He would cast the line and then immediately bring it back in. While his technique was certainly flawed, I admired his positive attitude and hope.  He thought if he could just get it as far as possible, something good would return. 

            I found myself drawn to this reading from 1st Peter for a few reasons, but primarily because of this line, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”   This is a verse that would appeal to me at any time as I tend to be a worrier, but especially at this time in our country and world when anxiety seems to be ubiquitous—it’s even more appropriate.  The word “cast” caught my attention, perhaps because of my extensive fishing experience over the last 10 weeks.  It is not unusual to see fishing language in the Bible.  It was a metaphor often used by Jesus and presumably his disciples as well.  The Greek word translated to “cast” could also be translated to throw.  Throw your anxiety on God. Cast sounds more eloquent, but I think either works.  Because when we are desperately anxious, often we cast our anxieties like my son does his fishing line—we just try to get them as far away as possible. 

            Even when we are intending to do as the text tells us and cast our anxiety on God, it’s as though we kind of throw it at him and then expect something miraculous in return.  That is what fishing is.  You cast something out and expect something different when you bring the line back.  But real fishermen have patience and discipline. They don’t expect to get something immediately.

            Thus when the author of Peter instructs us to cast our anxieties, he also gives some advice.  First before you even cast, you humble yourself before God.  Then you discipline yourself.  Then you resist.  Peter is talking about resisting the devil, but I think we can apply this idea of resistance to all kinds of things. 

            Humility. Discipline. Resistance.  If we are talking fishing, this would mean the opposite of what my son does.  We don’t throw out a plastic fish and anticipate a giant catch.  We don’t pull in the line immediately.  And we definitely don’t throw down the pole in disgust when we don’t get the results we want.  Now we know what not to do. Let’s talk about what we should do.

            I think it is safe to say that people in our world are praying more than usual right now. It is tempting to fixate on quick results, if not a vaccine, then at least a lightening of the burden that each one of us is feeling.  We tend to pray in specifics.  We tell God what we want as opposed to humbling ourselves and asking for God’s direction.  So let’s try to start with humility.  Let’s try to admit that maybe, we don’t know what is best.  Maybe our best interests are not the same as the best interests of all the people of this world.  Humble ourselves.

            The next step is discipline. The way we have been asked to handle the pandemic is a perfect example.  When it started, most of us were doing pretty good at following directions.  But then 2 weeks turned into 10 and the discipline and fortitude we started with—the idea that we are all in this together, has started to slip through our fingers.  And I get it. I am right there with you.  It was one thing when this was during Lent.  We are supposed to suffer in Lent. But Easter…and now it’s Memorial Day and we can’t go to the beach?!?  Discipline is so hard when it last longer than two weeks. 

And Jesus and Peter…they were talking about a lifetime of discipline in our prayer and our actions.  For Peter, the stakes could not have been higher.  “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”  You might think that Peter was talking about persecution. He was, but not in the way that Christians were persecuted later.  At the time Peter wrote, the Christians were such a small group they were not a threat to the Romans.  They were more of an inconvenience.  They were not being thrown to the lions literally.  It was more of peer pressure and judgment.   People were trying to convince these new Christians to go back to their pagan ways.  It would make everyone’s life easier.  The threat wasn’t physical, but Peter acted like it was. That is how important, how critical it was for them to continue to practice and live as Christians.          

“Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”  Resistance is part of discipline.  It is resisting what is easy and convenient. Resisting the people who would tempt us away from the Christian path.  Peter reminds these new Christians that they are not the only ones suffering.  Their brothers and sisters all over the world were also suffering.  It is something that we have been reminded many times over the last few months.  We are all suffering.  We are all in this together.  But that is not quite true.  Some are suffering more than others.  So instead of resistance for the sake of the whole….many are resisting for the sake of themselves and their freedom.  What Peter knew and what most of the early Christians knew was that true freedom was found in suffering and sacrifice, not for the sake of oneself, but the sake of the larger community.

So yes, let us cast our anxieties on God, but let us be careful as we throw our anxieties off, that they not increase the anxiety of another.  We can do that if we act with humility and discipline.  Once we have done that, once we have been as faithful as our strength allows, let us cast those anxieties with the same hope and faith my son has when he fishes—that regardless of our skill or the bait we use, God can take whatever we give him and transform it into something miraculous.