THE CATCH AND THE SEPARATION
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net which was cast into the sea, and which gathered all kinds of things. When it was full, they hauled it up on to the shore, and sat down, and collected the good contents into containers, but threw the useless contents away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come, and they will separate the evil from the righteous, and they will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there.”
It was the most natural thing in the world that Jesus should use illustrations from fishing when he was speaking to fishermen. It was as if he said to them: “Look how your daffy work speaks to you of the things of heaven.”
In Palestine there were two main ways of fishing. One was with the casting-net, the amphiblestron (GSN0293). It was a hand-net which was cast from the shore. Thomson describes the process: “The net is in shape like the top of a bell-tent, with a long cord fastened to the apex. This is tied to the arm, and the net so folded that, when it is thrown, it expands to its utmost circumference, around which are strung beads of lead to make it drop suddenly to the bottom. Now, see the actor; half bent, and more than half naked, he keenly watches the playful surf, and there he spies his game tumbling in carelessly toward him. Forward he leaps to meet it. Away goes the net, expanding as it flies, and its leaded circumference strikes the bottom ere the silly fish is aware that its meshes have closed around him. By the aid of the cord the fishermen leisurely draws up the net and the fish with it. This requires a keen eye, an active frame, and great skill in throwing the net.
He, too, must be patient, watchful, wide awake, and prompt to seize the exact moment to throw.”
The second way of fishing was with the drag-net, the sagene (GSN4522), what we would call the seine net or the trawl. This is the way referred to in this parable. The seine net was a great square net with cords at each corner, and weighted so that, at rest, it hung, as it were, upright in the water. When the boat began to move, the net was drawn into the shape of a great cone and into the cone all kinds of fish were swept.
The net was then drawn to land, and the catch was separated. The useless material was flung away; the good was put into containers. It is interesting to note that sometimes the fish were put alive into containers rifled with water. There was no other way to transport them in freshness over any time or any distance.
There are two great lessons in this parable.
(i) It is in the nature of the drag-net that it does not, and cannot, discriminate. It is bound to draw in all kinds of things in its course through the water. Its contents are bound to be a mixture. If we apply that to the Church, which is the instrument of God’s Kingdom upon earth, it means that the Church cannot be discriminative but is bound to be a mixture of all kinds of people, good and bad, useless and useful.
There have always been two views of the Church–the exclusive and the inclusive. The exclusive view holds that the Church is for people who are good, people who are really and fully committed, people who are quite different from the world. There is an attraction in that view, but it is not the New Testament view, because, apart from anything else, who is to do the judging, when we are told that we must not judge? (Matt. 7:1). It is not any man’s place to say who is committed to Christ and who is not. The inclusive view feels instinctively that the Church must be open to all, and that, like the drag-net, so long as it is a human institution it is bound to be a mixture. That is exactly what this parable teaches.
(ii) But equally this parable teaches that the time of separation will come when the good and the bad are sent to their respective destinations. That separation, however, certain as it is, is not man’s work but God’s. Therefore it is our duty to gather in all who will come, and not to judge or separate, but to leave the final judgment to God.
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary