The followers of Jesus are called to bind up the brokenhearted and heal humanity’s woundedness. Doing so requires a commitment to justice, for all societies on earth. The religious models of yesterday created systems of oppression. Instead of binding up broken hearts, oppression actually causes heartbreak and woundedness. Will the future model of the church be different? Yes, she will.
The best place to envision the future, is to revisit the seaside, where Jesus began his ministry.
The parable of the net speaks directly to the work of the kingdom on earth. In this short parable, Jesus gave us the imagery he desired for the kingdom of heaven, as well as the steps to follow, in pursuing the mission of bringing the kingdom at hand.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, the fishermen drew it to shore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous,” Matthew 13:47–49.
I believe Jesus told the parable of the net, to inform the human spirit, of the church’s rightful image. Humans are to become net makers, who cast themselves out over spiritual waters!
But, the religious models of yesterday ignored the image of a net, in favor of planting mud, and concrete foundations on dry land. Presently, the image most closely associated with the word, “church,” is a man-made building. While such physical structures do afford a place for Christians to meet each other, the buildings do not resemble a net. The purpose of a building and the purpose of a net are completely different. So, we can expect that the human spirit will eventually shed the need for images of bricks, stone, and wood, in favor of constructing nets of people, and casting out these human nets over the spiritual waters of their neighborhoods.
But this particular parable also offers something more. It offers an ordered sequence of tasks that must be accomplished, as the human spirit journeys through time. When considering the sequence of tasks, it becomes obvious that the church model we’ve inherited, did not follow the sequenced order Jesus laid out. The activity that must take place is as follows:
1. Throw a net into the sea.
2. Catch fish of every kind.
3. When the net is full, pull it to shore.
4. Sit down.
5. Collect good fish and put them in a basket.
Presently, the religious model of the church gleefully announces that there is room for all! All are welcome! Such announcements suggest that the church is attempting to complete tasks #1 and #2, in order to fill her buildings. But, it has been determined that the buildings are not full. So we can conclude that the church is still working on tasks #1 and #2. Task #3, which pulls full nets to the shore, cannot happen with nets that are not full.
The “empty net” syndrome is an important realization. An empty net suggests that the church might be doing something wrong. Perhaps a change is necessary. Behind her closed doors, the church has long been perceived as the place where good fish are collected, for God’s basket. But, wait. Isn’t collecting good fish, for God’s basket, task #5 on the ‘to do’ list? Yes, it is!
Putting good fish in God’s basket is to be accomplished, only after the nets are full of every possible kind of fish. Only then will full nets be pulled to shore.
Can everyone see the church’s present problem? The followers of Jesus have not accurately discerned the church’s order of business. Determining if the church universal has a full net is task #3, yet the church has been trying to complete task #5. Moreover, she hasn’t begun to understand tasks #1 and 2.
We simply aren’t as far ahead, on the church’s journey through time, as we think we ought to be.
From all indications, it seems that the sequential order of tasks has been violated for many, many centuries. Engaging in task #5, before the completion of tasks #1, 2, 3, and 4, suggests that the human spirit jumped ahead of itself! Way ahead! With reckless abandon, and inappropriate zeal, Christians have appointed themselves as “angels” who come at the end of the age to separate good from evil, so to speak. In essence, the church has tried to complete a task that had not yet reached its appointed time. Therefore, she put herself in the spiritual position of arrogance, long before the end of the age, mentioned in this parable.
God’s timing is important!
Violating the sequential order of tasks in this parable has led to much spiritual confusion. That’s what happens when people surge ahead of God’s time. To engage in an activity, before a ripeness of time, is a sure sign of too much human control, not enough trust in God’s timing, or at the very least, spiritual immaturity.
Engaging in task #5 is an activity of spiritual discernment. Putting good fish into God’s basket, requires throwing out bad fish.
Who is qualified to discern such matters?
Today, followers of Jesus have been led to believe they must draw judgmental dividing lines, which the human spirit is wholly unprepared, and unequipped to draw. Especially when tasks #1, the casting of nets, and task #2 the catching of fish, have not truly been understood, or completed.
Confusion over the sequential order of her tasks, is one reason that people are leaving the traditional model of the church. It is one reason that a transfiguration is necessary, at this point in time. People may not be able to articulate their reasons for leaving, in light of the parable of the net, but they know the church should not be making judgments, about good and bad fish!
Instead of continuing to engage in task #5, the human spirit may want to return to the sea where Jesus called his first disciples.
Christians may want to revisit tasks #1 and #2.
What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom of heaven is like a net? How would such human nets be constructed? Does Scripture provide the organizational details for such organization of people? If Christians learn to make strong nets, how would these human nets be cast over the spiritual waters of our communities? What does net imagery teach us? Are nets really supposed to catch fish of every kind?