Where you cast your nets (A reflection on John 21.1-14)

I once heard a sermon which summarized Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances with the Douglas Adams line, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” I couldn’t help but think of this as I was reading this morning’s Gospel reading. The disciples are fishing but are having a frustrating time of it. A man, later recognized to be Jesus, shouts at them from the shore to lower their nets on the right side of the boat. They do so and are immediately rewarded with a hilariously large catch. (Jesus’ teasing sense of humour really comes out in these post-resurrection stories, I find.)

The story reminded me of a passage I came across the other day in some reading on Hassidic Jewish philosophy on the power we have over our thoughts. Rabbi Laibl Wolf writes:

Your natural disposition can be likened to a fishing reel. Your deeper wants and wishes are the bait. The way you pursue joy and alleviate pain is represented by the area of the lake where you prefer to fish. Your thoughts are the fish you catch. Most of us fish in exactly the same way, in exactly the same area of the pond, and we always catch the same fish. In general, we respond in the same way to the same stimuli.

And indeed we see this is very much the case. We all have patterns of automatic thoughts (usually negative) and default interpretations of situations based on past experiences. These are deeply rooted aspects of human physiology and psychology. But, as Rabbi Wolf notes, these patterns aren’t the whole story: “You can learn how to reinterpret reality. You can draw upon, and maintain, a positive disposition by catching “different fish” — by metaphorically changing your fishing style.”

The tie that binds this metaphor and the Gospel reading is that what we catch depends to a large extent on where we cast our nets. And if we don’t like what we’re catching (or not catching), we can choose to cast them elsewhere.

So I’m going to leave you (and myself for that matter) with some questions to ponder today:

  • Where am I fishing?
  • What am I catching?
  • Where else might I cast my nets if I don’t like what I’m catching right now?

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