Or again, the kindom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collected all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishers hauled it ashore. Then, setting down they collected the good ones in a basket and threw away those that were of no use.
Mathew 13: 47-48
|Egyptians fishing with a dragnet, source unknown|
The “point” of a parable is usually derived from the action portrayed within it – a seed growing into a big bush, a ruler forgiving an underling of embezzlement, a parent rejoicing over the return of a lost child. Even today actions still speak louder than words as we continue to assess persons by what they do, instead of what they say; an insight worth meditating on during this year of rather ugly presidential politics in the US.
This parable portrays two actions. The first is the use of a dragnet for the purpose of catching fish. As a result of it being a dragnet it harvests all aquatic life in its path and as the image above demonstrates, the net makes no distinction between fish of value and non-eatable fish. According to Jesus, the empire of God is like this net. It makes no distinction. God’s reign simply sweeps along all who are in its path.
The parable as used in the unfolding narrative of the Gospel According to Matthew is employed at the point where the Jesus movement is waning. Programmatically the author of Matthew is preparing us for the rejection and execution of Jesus. The position of the parable at this juncture in the gospel narrative should give us pause.
Jesus is accused of hanging out with those who polite religious society assumes are among the “fish to be thrown away.” Jesus seems to like the lowlife – sex workers, national traitors, abusers of authority, and such. This lifestyle of Jesus brings us into conflict with the second action of the parable – the sorting of the harvest into what is valuable and what is worthless.
We are conflicted here because we no longer can make assumptions about who is in and who is out. If the sex worker is in, what does that mean for the purity practicing teenager? If those who sold out to the Roman occupation are in, what does that mean for those faithful to their identity politics? If those who abuse and over use their authority are in, what does that mean for those who practice mutuality and collaboration?
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to throw in the towel on this whole religious thing. I know no more about the kingdom now than before I encountered this parable. What good is it to live life one way if those who live life another way are valued over me? Is this net for liberation or for enslavement?
This parable brings us straight before the quintessential religious question: What makes us valuable to the Divine? Words we speak? Beliefs we hold? Actions we take? Or is it something broader than the individual: ethnic identity, sexual expression, the size of my bible?
The parable teases us as it gives no hint whatsoever about how to prove oneself valuable to God. It reads as if God will value what God will value in spite of words, beliefs, and actions. God will love who God will love in spite of ethnicity, sexual expression, or the size of one’s bible.
It is as if Jesus is saying: God’s love depends on God. It does not depend on you saying, doing, or believing the right thing. God’s acceptance depends on God. It does not depend on you being born of the right clan, or expressing acceptable sexuality, or whether or not you read a bible, some other scripture, or no scripture at all.
Radical indeed is this thing, this Empire of God!