“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” (Matthew 13:47)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)

 

THE DRAGNET

The focus of this parable is variety. The parable moves away for its normal setting of a field to the sea – and I can think of no better illustration for variety than the sea. There are billions and billions of different species and colors of animals in the sea. From the large mouth bass to the octopus, or the majestic whale shark to the cuttlefish. The ocean is full – teaming – with all kinds of unique, amazing, magnificent life. Today we are going to see that the kingdom of God is filled with a great variety of ‘all kinds.’

The Kingdom of God invites, or literally, drags, a great variety of all kinds. Jesus says “it is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” Jesus used a very unique and specific word for net. He very intentionally says that the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet. I say he uses this word very intentionally because it is the only time that this word is used in the Bible. And that makes it pretty important.

A dragnet is a net, obviously, that could be up to a half a mile long. Imagine it with me. A fisherman attaches the net to the rear of his boat, and then lets it fall out as he rows out until he runs out of net. There are are weights all along the bottom of this net to keep it on the bottom of the net on ocean floor, and there are floats along the top to keep the top part of the net on the surface. So, you have a net that is stretch out, from the shore to the sea, about a half a mile, and its stretches from the bottom to the top. Now the boat makes a long u-turn dragging that net across the sea and back to shore. Surely, you can picture this. It will drag everything, not just fish – everything, on to the beach. The term ‘dragnet’ is also a policing term.

Dragnet is any system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects; including road barricades and traffic stops, widespread DNA tests, and general increased police alertness. The term derives from a fishing technique of dragging a fishing net across the sea bottom, or through a promising area of open water. Wiki

Many of you probably can’t help but think of the very popular and influential television series by the same name. Dragnet started in 1947 and was on air in different capacities – radio, television, and film –  all through out the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – and is still recognized today. When you think about policing or detective work the dragnet is a adequate word because the net is dragged indiscriminately. Everyone is a suspect.

Well… back to our parable. Jesus tells us that this is what the kingdom of God is like. There is no discrimination. Everything is dragged onto the beach by the dragnet. And I mean everything. Fish, seaweed, old boots, tires. Everything!

It is interesting to me that Jesus never actually uses the word fish. I know, your Bible may have the word in there, but its not in there. In the original Greek it simply says “0f all kinds.” It doesn’t use the word for fish. We have to supply the word ourselves. It is much like another beautiful statement Jesus makes:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Again the word ‘people’ is not in the original. It is simply “I will draw all.” In fact, some manuscripts specifically say “all things.” Not a huge deal really, I just find it very interesting. Because – Colossians says that through Jesus – God is reconciling all things to himself, and in Revelation 21:5 he says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” So, it seems to me that there is a lot more going on in the Kingdom than just saving people. Jesus is drawing all, reconciling all, gathering all, to himself – and – something about that demands our attention. The kingdom of God is holistic and catholic [pertaining to the whole]. It takes in everything. Here’s a thought.

If the kingdom works like a dragnet, gathering every kind, the church, as the sacrament of the kingdom, should avoid the temptation to act like a sport fisherman who is interested only in speckled trout and hand tied flies. In particular, it should not get itself into the habit of rejecting as junk the flotsam and jetsam of the world – the human counterparts of the old boots, bottles, and beer cans that a truly catholic fishing operation will inevitably dredge up. Capon

I think we would do well to pause and consider this. Does the church look more like a dragnet or a sports fishermen? Now I want to be fair. I think that any church that is intentional about reaching out – is actually reaching out to just about anybody who would allow themselves to be reached out to. But if you look at most congregations across this country, especially those in STL, including ours, I can’t say with any confidence that there is a close representation of the ‘all kinds’ we would get with a dragnet. It is clear that we still have a long way to go in representing accurately the diversity found in the kingdom of God.

Diversity is something we should definitely think about and certainly pray for, especially here in STL. Which is why I brought that up. But, for now, I want to go in a tad bit different direction. I don’t know about you but I don’t necessarily feel like a speckled trout. Truth be told I feel more like the rusty beer can – or better yet – a rubber tire, tangled in a bunch of fishing wire and hooks – with a rusty beer can thrown in. In other words, I am so glad that the kingdom of God is like a dragnet because it is the only way you and I are ever getting in.

So – if you feel like a rusty can, or an old pair of boots, be encouraged, the kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet, it literally drags in everything. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you haven’t done. Jesus says, if I be lifted up I will draw all to myself. Jesus is drawing you. Thats right even you. Now I can’t tell you how many times I have heard some one say something like, “Well I could never step foot in a church because I’d be struck by lightening.” I have heard a lot of people say that, and I used to just pass it off as a silly joke, but I have come to realize that there are a great deal of people who actually think like that. Sadly they haven’t heard that Jesus draws all to himself and that the kingdom of God is like a dragnet. It drags in everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Sinners, worse sinners, and seeming unpardonable sinners.

Everybody, even the worst stinker on earth, is somebody for whom Christ died… Sinners are the church’s business, for God’s sake. Literally. Capon

THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY

Back to the parable. When the net gets full, “Men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.” And here is where you and I start to get a little squirmy. “Wait, you said the net drags in everyone and everything indiscriminately but now your taking about being judged. I don’t like that! I don’t want to be judge?” “Well, why not?” “Cause I’m afraid I wont make it.” “Ok – well – lets look at that.”

 

Once the fish, and everything else, makes it to shore – the fishermen proceed to keep what they want but then throw the rest away. There are 2 categories. The keep bucket and the trash. The “good” get thrown into the keep bucket and the “bad” get thrown into the trash. So, which one are you? Are you the good or the bad? Well, that depends on what the fishermen are looking for. Doesn’t it? If they are going for size, I’m pretty sure I’m going in the keep bucket. If they are going for pretty, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I may not be pretty but I can sometimes be pretty cute, or pretty amusing, or pretty… something. It really all depends on what the fishermen want. Doesn’t it?

But here is why we get scared. Because we often read this and think the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are meant as morally good and morally bad. But – if that is indeed the case – then the Bible has already condemned all of us to the bad – or trash bucket. The Bible says that, “All have sinned and fallen short.” In other words – we do not make the grade. If this is good (mKalosorally) verses bad (morally) then we are all in trouble. So then what is it? Well, let me show you something. In Greek, the word Jesus used for ‘good’ is kalos.

“Kalos in Greek does indeed mean “good,” but with overtones of “beautiful,” “fine,” or “fair”; it is not as narrowly moralistic as the other common Greek word for “good” (agathos).” Capon

For instance, Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. Clearly he did not mean simply that he is an ethical shepherd. It is more likely that he meant he is an admirable, or kind, or fair shepherd. And we use the word like that all of the time. We might say the movie or book was good, or the pasta dinner we had at Olive Garden was good. In fact, often, when people ask you how you’re doing, you simply respond by saying, “Good,” or if you need anything, “No, I’m good.” And isn’t it clear that none of those uses of ‘good’ mean anything close to ethics or morality? It just means good, appealing, pleasing. Some fish are appealing and pleasing to the fishermen. Some are beautiful. I think you would all agree that it would be really weird to say the fish were morally good.

The same is also true for the word ‘bad.’ In Greek Jesus used the word sapros, which means “rotten, putrid, corrupt, worthless, or useless. Again… not necessarily about morality. Kakos is one Greek word for ‘bad.” It is the opposite of ‘good’ (kalos). So he could of used Kakos. The preferred Greek word for the morally bad is poneros, which is often translated evil or wicked. Jesus could have used any of those words (along with a handful of others), but instead he used sapros, rotten, putrid, corrupt, or useless.

So let me make my point very clear. The fish are not separated by their moral history. Whether the were pure fish or evil ones. They are simply separated by whether or not the fishermen found them to be good or rotten.

“The criterion is not the innate goodness or badness of the fish themselves, but their acceptability to the fishermen. It is their utility or their beauty, in short – their being found kala in the eye of the beholder – that lands them in the “save” bucket. And it is the judgment of sapra (rotten! ugly! icky! crummy! yech!) that gets them thrown away on the beach… But note well that nobody goes to hell because he had a rotten track record in the world – any more than anyone goes to heaven because he had a good one.”  Capon

JUDGEMENT 

I realize that you might be thinking that I’ve just softened this parable – tremendously. And, I will admit that I have indeed. But – I have done so on purpose. It’s true. If you read this parable at its face value it is not a soft one at all. In fact it is very hard. Ill explain by reading the rest of the parable.

So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So, now we must turn to the subject of judgment. We can’t stay there on the beach with the fish and the driftwood because Jesus interprets the parable and teaches that there will indeed be a day of judgment. So let me say this. Whether you want to believe it or not there will be a judgment. There will be a time in which God, or Christ, or his angels (as seen here in this parable) will separate the good from the bad and throw the bad into the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Otherwise known as hell.

So, again, let me be very clear. At the end, or in the last days, at the end of all time, when the kingdom comes – there will be a judgment. Jesus will separate the weeds form the wheat and the bad from the good. Clearly, this is a parable is about judgment. And that’s fitting since this is the end Jesus’ sermon about the kingdom of God. IT does seem fitting to end with judgment.

Did you notice the words Jesus used in his interpretation? He shifts from simply saying ‘bad’ (sapros) to ‘wicked’ (poneros). And from ‘good’ (kalos), as ascetically good, to ‘the righteous ones’ (dikaion). Clearly these new words are moralistic. So – now, you might be wondering, why did I spend all that time describing the good and bad as not moralistic when the parable ends up using moralist language at the judgment anyway? Well, I did that intentionally for 2 reasons. (1) Because it is true. That is how the parable reads, but (2), and more importantly, I had to over emphasis the language in the first half of the parable because it is so easy, too easy, for us to get trapped into a certain way of thinking when we read parables like this one. It is very easy to turn this into something like, “You better watch out, you better be nice, cause he’s making a list and he’s checking it twice, and he gonna find out who is naughty and nice.”

But notice that there is no discussion as to how the fish swam while they were still in the sea. Were they good swimmers or bad swimmers? No debate over whether they where naughty or nice. No list that the angels are checking once or twice. No, it is a very simple processes of separating. This one is good, this one is yuck. This is wheat, these are weeds. These are the righteous ones, and these are the wicked. It is obvious. It only takes one look. So let me ask you, what makes one look good and the other look bad? It is righteousness.

Question: How did those righteous ones get to be righteous? Answer: By the free gift of Jesus’ righteousness. Question: To whom was that free gift offered? Answer (unless you believe in double predestination): to every human being who ever lived. Question: Do you actually mean that there’s nobody at the Last Judgment who hasn’t been given the righteousness of Christ? Answer: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Question: Then how come some of them are judged ponerous? Answer: Because even though they’ve got his righteousness, they’ve decided they don’t like it; they can’t stand the thought of not being accepted on their very own personal merit. Capon

 

This is what the Bible teaches over and over again. Jesus died for the sins of the word. His free gift of righteousness is offered to all. Once he is lifted up he draws all to himself. This whole world is given, freely, the same gift of salvation that you and I are here to worship and thank God for. That is the truth. To think otherwise would suggest that Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough for the whole world. I believe it was.

But not everyone receives it. There are some, indeed many, who refuse it. They are invited in, even dragged in, but still just wont receive the free gift. And therefore, must be cast out of the party. There is another parable that Jesus tells later in his ministry that illustrated this even clearer. Mat 22:1-14

Notice that all of those who seemed deserving to attended the party. The right or fitting guests, all refused the invitation. They are not at the party. The ones who finally did get into the party were those who, despite their unfitness and their undeserving, were simply dragged into the party. They have no right, in and of themselves to be there. In fact it is their being dragooned into the party that made them acceptable – despite their unacceptableness.

But here is were this parable gets shocking and confusing. The king looks around and sees a man with no wedding garment. And says to him, “Friend, (note the kindness) how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” The man was  speechless and the king commanded the attendants to bind him hand and foot throw him into that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Wow, another hard parable. It is the same as our parable today. The one who is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ is the one who is cast out. None of these guest deserved to be there. But one, some how, got in without receiving the free gift of Christ’s righteousness. He must of thought he deserved to be there. I might be thinking, “Finally some one recognizes me for the special person I am.”  I don’t know what he was thinking, all I know is that he was not clothed in Christ’s righteousness and had to be thrown out.

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 

These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14

CONCLUSION

Now I always have to pause a moment to say the thing that I have not been saying. That is, I have to say what I’m not saying. So, I am not saying that our faith in Jesus doesn’t change us. If we are given the righteousness of Christ and if we wear that often, I do believe that we will begin to reflect that righteousness in our lives. In other words, I do believe that Christ followers should be kalos (good). So I do believe in reform. I do believe that the gospel has the power to change us. But notice that reform is not mentioned anywhere in any of these parables about the kingdom. In other words, it does not say that you must be reformed in order to enter into the kingdom. It says you must be righteous and that that righteousness comes as a free gift from Christ.

“If there had been a law given that could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all [ta pinta, fascinatingly, ‘all things’] under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:21-22, KJV). 

Do you see? If even the divine jawboning on Mount Sinai couldn’t reform the world, why should we think that our two-bit tirades against sin will do any better? So once again: sure there’s reform; and it is even an important subject. But like everything else about the kingdom, it works in a mystery: it comes not when we decide to enforce it but only when God, by his paradoxical power, brings it about in his own good time. Capon