There are three times in this passage that the net is mentioned.
As the church, the people of the risen Jesus, we are called to use the net and to be the net.
1. The net is a picture of what we are called to be about.
We are called to go fishing! But not for fish, for people.
The thing about Jesus' followers is that whenever we read about them they are rubbish fishermen. They are either on the shore mending their nets, or terrified in a storm (twice), or they are out fishing all night and not catching a thing (twice). The only time we read of them making a great catch of fish is when they follow Jesus' instructions.
But Jesus does not want his followers to be effective fishers for fish. What he is saying here is that he wants his followers to be effective fishers for people!
[invite children to come out and begin cutting out fish shapes and people shapes]
Jesus has earlier told his followers: 'Follow me and I will make you fishers of people'
There is a verse in the Old Testament, 'Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes." (Jer 16:16)
It is the idea that if God is calling you - and the fact that you are here today, or that you are reading this, makes me suspect that he is - you cannot escape him. He'll send his fishers to get you.
And now, after his resurrection, Jesus reminds his followers that they are called to be fishers of people.
He doesn't say it here, but what happens is almost identical to Luke 5 when he does call them to be fishers of people. It's the same place (the sea of Tiberias is another name for the Sea of Galilee); they've been fishing all night and not caught a thing; they follow Jesus' instructions and catch a huge number of fish. And Jesus says to them, 'From now on you will be fishers of people'
[So I'd like to see how many fish we can catch in our net - start putting cut out fish/people shapes onto the net]
It is a strange idea - that we are to be fishers for people.
a) It implies that people, like fish, need to be caught
There is, of course, a big difference. Fish run away because they wish to stay alive. We do not wish to be caught because we wish to remain spiritually dead.
We naturally run away from God. Like the bird that came down the chimney in our lounge. We could not get it out, and in the end it had to be caught with a net before it could be set free. It had to learn that we could be trusted.
There is a famous poem called The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thomson. GK Chesterton calls it the greatest poem in the English language. The idea behind it is that God chases us - but in our sinful rebellion we think he is like a great big beast who is out to get us.
We run from the one who loves us
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But eventually the Hound of Heaven catches up with us
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'
The thing is about Jesus is that once we are caught, we wish to remain caught. He does not catch us for death. He catches us for life.
b) It implies that we, as Christians, are called to catch people.
But that is not completely true.
Our task is to simply to let down the net at the right time and the right place in obedience to Jesus. It is God's task to catch people.
CS Lewis was an atheist of the order of Dawkins. He wrote in a letter, in 1916, "That the man Yeshua or Jesus did actually exist, is as certain as that the Buddha did actually exist: Tacitus mentions his execution in the Annals. But all the other tomfoolery about virgin birth, magic healing, apparitions and so forth is on exactly the same footing as any other mythology." He has long discussions with his believing friend Arthur Greeves. But in the end it is God who gets him. The key years are 1930 and 1931. He writes in 1930, before he has finally surrendered, about how God is catching him. 'I can’t express the change better than by saying that whereas once I would have said “Shall I adopt Christianity”, I now wait to see whether it will adopt me: i.e. I now know there is another Party in the affair—that I’m playing poker, not Patience, as I once supposed.’ [information taken from Public Christianity]
Of course, we don't actually use physical nets to catch people.
There have been times in church history when Christians have tried to use force to bring people in, and the results have been disastrous.
Instead the net that we use is prayer, love and service, speech and persuasion.
2. The net stands for something else here: the church, the body of believers
Most people writing about this passage remark on the symbolism of the fact that many fish are caught, but the net is not broken.
If you are a Christian you are in the net.
Little Eva today was placed in the net. We pray that as she grows older she will choose to remain in the net.
Or perhaps in today's language, if you are a Christian you are part of a vast net-work of interconnected people, bound together by Jesus
[get many people to hold onto the net]
The church is THE great network - linking up people who are very different: different nationalities, cultures, educational backgrounds, times and eras. It really is open to anybody.
This is the net that catches us when we drop.
This is a living net, powered by the Spirit of God.
The banner, the standard over this net is the acclamation: Jesus is Lord.
And it is obedience to the risen Jesus that makes this net work.
The net is at the centre of what we are about, so it is appropriate that our new website is www.wearechurch.net