Those That Don’t Fish, Fight.

They were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

IT’S A GOOD THING THOSE VERSES weren’t written about me.
It’s a good thing thousands of people weren’t depending on Max for their teaching and nourishment. Especially on a day when I’d just heard of the death of a dear friend. Especially on a day when I wanted to be alone with my friends. Especially after I’d gotten into a boat to escape the crowds. Had that been me in Jesus’ sandals on that Bethsaida beach, the verses would read something like:

They were like sheep without a shepherd. So Max told them to quit grazing on his pasture and to head back to their pens.

When Max landed and saw a large crowd, he mumbled something about how hard it was to get a day off and radioed for the helicopter. Then he and the disciples escaped to a private retreat.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t responsible for those people. I would have been in no mood to teach them, no mood to help them. I would have had no desire even to be with them.
But, as I think about it, Jesus had no desire to be with them either. After all, he did leave them, didn’t he? He had every intention of getting away and being alone. So what happened? Why didn’t he tell them to get lost? What made him change his mind and spend the day with the people he was trying to avoid?
Answer? Take a look at five words in Matthew 14:14:
“He had compassion on them.”
The Greek word used for compassion in this passage is splanchnizomai, which won’t mean much to you unless you are in the health professions and studied “splanchnology” in school. If so, you remember that “splanchnology” is a study of the visceral parts. Or, in contemporary jargon, a study of the gut.
When Matthew writes that Jesus had compassion on the people, he is not saying that Jesus felt casual pity for them. No, the term is far more graphic. Matthew is saying that Jesus felt their hurt in his gut:

  • He felt the limp of the crippled.
  • He felt the hurt of the diseased.
  • He felt the loneliness of the leper.
  • He felt the embarrassment of the sinful.

And once he felt their hurts, he couldn’t help but heal their hurts. He was moved in the stomach by their needs. He was so touched by their needs that he forgot his own needs. He was so moved by the people’s hurts that he put his hurts on the back burner.
Maybe that’s why God brings hurting people into your world, too. All solitude and no service equals selfishness. Some solitude and some service, however, equals perspective.
Here’s a story to illustrate my point.
When I was in high school, our family used to fish every year during spring break. One year my brother and my mom couldn’t go, so my dad let me invite a friend. I asked Mark. He was a good pal and a great sport. He got permission from his parents, and we began planning our trip.
Days before leaving, we could already anticipate the vacation. We could feel the sun warming our bodies as we floated in the boat. We could feel the yank of the rod and hear the spin of the reel as we wrestled the white bass into the boat. And we could smell the fish frying in an open skillet over an open fire.
We could hardly wait. Days passed like cold molasses. Finally spring break arrived. We loaded our camper and set out for the lake.
We arrived late at night, unfolded the camper, and went to bed—dreaming of tomorrow’s day in the sun. But during the night, an unseasonably strong norther blew in. It got cold fast! The wind was so strong that we could barely open the camper door the next morning. The sky was gray. The lake was a mountain range of white-topped waves. There was no way we could fish in that weather.
“No problem,” we said. “We’ll spend the day in the camper. After all, we have Monopoly. We have Reader’s Digest. We all know a few jokes. It’s not what we came to do, but we’ll make the best of it and fish tomorrow.”
So, huddled in the camper with a Coleman stove and a Monopoly board, we three fishermen passed the day—indoors. The hours passed slowly, but they did pass. Night finally came, and we crawled into the sleeping bags dreaming of angling.
Were we in for a surprise. The next morning it wasn’t the wind that made the door hard to open, it was the ice!
We tried to be cheerful. “No problem,” we mumbled. “We can play Monopoly … again. We can reread the stories in Reader’s Digest. And surely we know another joke or two.” But as courageous as we tried to be, it was obvious that some of the gray had left the sky and entered our camper.
I began to notice a few things I hadn’t seen before. I noticed that Mark had a few personality flaws. He was a bit too cocky about his opinions. He was easily irritated and constantly edgy. He couldn’t take any constructive criticism. Even though his socks did stink, he didn’t think it was my business to tell him.
“Just looking out for the best interest of my dad’s camper,” I defended, expecting Dad to come to my aid.
But Dad just sat over in the corner, reading. Humph, I thought, where is he when I need him? And then, I began to see Dad in a different light. When I mentioned to him that the eggs were soggy and the toast was burnt, he invited me to try my hand at the portable stove. Touchy, touchy, I said to myself. Nothing like being cooped up in a camper with someone to help you see his real nature.
It was a long day. It was a long, cold night.
When we awoke the next morning to the sound of sleet slapping the canvas, we didn’t even pretend to be cheerful. We were flat-out grumpy. Mark became more of a jerk with each passing moment; I wondered what spell of ignorance I must have been in when I invited him. Dad couldn’t do anything right; I wondered how someone so irritable could have such an even-tempered son. We sat in misery the whole day, our fishing equipment still unpacked.
The next day was even colder. “We’re going home” were my father’s first words. No one objected.
I learned a hard lesson that week. Not about fishing, but about people.
When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.
When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved. Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.
The result? Church Scrooges. “Bah humbug” spirituality. Beady eyes searching for warts on others while ignoring the warts on the nose below. Crooked fingers that bypass strengths and point out weaknesses.
Split churches. Poor testimonies. Broken hearts. Legalistic wars.
And, sadly, poor go unfed, confused go uncounseled, and lost go unreached.
When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.
But note the other side of this fish tale: When those who are called to fish, fish—they flourish!
Nothing handles a case of the gripes like an afternoon service project. Nothing restores perspective better than a visit to a hospital ward. Nothing unites soldiers better than a common task.
Leave soldiers inside the barracks with no time on the front line and see what happens to their attitude. The soldiers will invent things to complain about. Bunks will be too hard. Food will be too cold. Leadership will be too tough. The company will be too stale. Yet place those same soldiers in the trench and let them duck a few bullets, and what was a boring barracks will seem like a haven. The beds will feel great. The food will be almost ideal. The leadership will be courageous. The company will be exciting.
When those who are called to fish, fish—they flourish!
Jesus knew that.
When he arrived at Bethsaida, he was sorrowful, tired, and anxious to be alone with the disciples. No one would have blamed him had he dismissed the crowds a second time. No one would have criticized him had he waved away the people. But he didn’t. Later he would. Later he would demand their departure and seek solitude.
But not before he “healed their sick” and taught them “many things.”4 Self was forgotten … others were served … and stress was relieved.
Make a note of that. The next time the challenges “outside” tempt you to shut the door and stay inside, stay long enough to get warm. Then get out. When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

Max Lucado

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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