Matthew 13:47-50 (NIV) “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 fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This parable echoes in some ways the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The key difference is that, in this parable, the bad fish are not put into the nets by the enemy; they simply come along with the crowd.
Anyplace the kingdom is active, it will tend to draw all kinds of people. Some are legitimately drawn to the spiritual reality being demonstrated by the people of the kingdom. They have eyes that see that the kingdom of God is a reality, and hunger to be a part of it. These are the good fish.
But some are merely drawn to the excitement. They want to be where exciting things are happening, but have no eyes to see the cause. They see the miracles, and enjoy being fascinated by the mystery of it all, but they have no desire to surrender themselves completely to God, and to truly repent of their sins so that they can be transformed. Others are drawn to the love and fellowship of God’s people. They are lonely and sorrowful, and long for the close relationships that they can see exist among the people of the kingdom. Still others are drawn because the truth of what the people of the kingdom have found and how they live make them very uncomfortable. So they come to investigate, and to see where they can punch holes in the faith of God’s people. These are all bad fish, and, unless they repent and turn to God, at the end of the age they will be thrown into the fiery furnace, regardless of how many services they have attended, how many committees they have served on, and how much “good” they have done.
This parable acknowledges that bad fish will be caught along with the good as often as the net is cast. (A reality that the fishermen in the crowd could easily acknowledge.) But the parable encourages no pre-sorting to be done by the people of the kingdom (although church discipline of those caught sinning is not abrogated by this), but leaves the final sorting to be done by the angels at the end of the age. This is primarily because, unlike fish, people can choose to repent, to allow themselves to be transformed into a good and righteous member of the kingdom, a “good fish.” And hope remains for anyone to do that until they die, or until Jesus returns and the final sorting begins.
Father, it is sometimes tempting for us to attempt to sort people out as we go. But, as You have made clear, if we do that, we could end up throwing out someone who can be transformed, if only we will focus on helping them to truly repent. I have seen it happen where a hard-core sinner, one who nearly everyone has given up on, is helped to see the light by one or two people, and is gloriously transformed into a truly “good fish.” Help us to be so full of Your love and Your light that we do draw all kinds of people. Then help us to love all of the people we draw with Your love, so that we can see multitudes transformed into “keepers.” Amen.