“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” – Matthew 13:47-52
Jesus uses a parable again in this passage, but now His metaphor is fishing-related rather than farming. He was definitely targeting his message to the audience by the lake. I think this is for the same reasons that I explored in yesterday’s passage about parables and pastries. The added twist here is that at the end of the passage He turns His attention to the old school God-followers in the crowd – the “teachers of the law”. More on this in a minute. First let’s explore the fishing analogy a bit.
A few years ago I had the privilege, and challenge, of leading undergraduate students on a seven-week study abroad program to Ghana, west Africa. Ghana is a beautiful and intriguing country full of many colors and contrasts. We spent the majority of our time in a beach town along the Atlantic Ocean called Winneba. It was a wonderful place to call home as we explored and learned about Ghana. Winneba is really a fishing village that grew into a town and the fishing culture is alive and well.
Many mornings I would awaken early and walk down to the beach to watch groups of people of all ages already hard at work casting a net into the sometimes angry Atlantic Ocean. The nets were very large and were ferried out into the ocean by either a power boat or a human-powered boat. The net created a loop out into the surf with the ends on shore. Believe it or not this was the easy part. Once the net had been out in the surf for some time the ends were drawn together on shore and a group of people manually pulled the ends of the net in to slowly close the “purse” on the fish in the surf. This tug of war with the net could go on for hours as they slowly made headway and brought in the the net.
Once the net was on shore all the people who helped pull it in gathered to observe what their hard work had brought. Sometimes the net was bulging with writhing fish, while other times the net was almost empty. Unfortunately, retrieving the net took almost the same amount of work whether it was empty or full. The catch certainly contained “all kinds of fish” including some “fish” that looked suspiciously like water snakes that made me opt out of swimming in the ocean. There was also a discouraging amount of garbage in the catch. Mainly plastic bags and bottles which washed about in the surf.
I learned from my observations of fishing in Ghana that casting and retrieving a net is hard work; it can reward the people fishing with lots of fish or almost none at all; the net captures all manner of things including fish, both good and bad, and garbage; and the amount of work involved is not always related to the reward in fish that you gain. I think Jesus would agree that fishing for people with the Good News of the Gospel can have similar problems. The consequences of the “fish sorting” that Jesus is describing here are pretty dire. Those deemed to be “bad fish” will not be just cast onto the sand to die, but placed into a blazing furnace where they will remain with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. I suspect it was descriptions like this that have led people to envision hell as a place of fire and torment.
Now to return to the interesting transition here to speaking directly to the teachers of the law who have “become disciples of the Kingdom of Heaven”. I assume He means Jewish teachers and leaders who have accepted his identity as the Messiah and the ruler of God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus tells them to bring “out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old”. What an interesting hidden well here in Matthew. Jesus is describing the confluence of the old and the new, a theme He will return to again many times.
Just like a sculptor takes a very old piece of marble and fashions it into a new and beautiful sculpture, Jesus is instructing these teachers to do the same with all of their knowledge of the God of the old testament. They are not supposed to jettison all the old wisdom and knowledge, but they do need to refashion it in light of the arrival of the Messiah. They are called upon to “bring out”, or teach about, “new treasures as well as old”. This means taking their old ideas and knowledge and applying them to their pursuit of God as He helps them fashion the old into the new.
I think this message applies to all God-followers as they attempt to pursue God while being pursued by Him. We all have our own “old treasures” from our life before we chose to follow the way of Christ. Some of these “treasures” may look like trash to other people, but not to God. He can use every bit of us, even the “broken pottery” of our lives that we might otherwise want to leave on the beach.
Prayer: God thank You for guiding us in using our old treasures as we pursue new treasures in Your Kingdom.