Fish in a Net

The last parable found in this Matthew 13 package is the parable of the fish and the net:
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Let’s do one last application (for now) of the Jewish hermeneutic to this parable, shall we?

The teaching of this parable appears to echo the parable of the weeds (which happens to be the same “explanation” that launched the teacher into these additional parables). The surface level p’shat reading of this teaching appears to be that the world contains both good fish and bad (similar to weeds and wheat in a field). The Kingdom is a reaffirmation that the good and the bad will be dealt with “by the angels.” The implied surface level assumption, based on our earlier parable about wheat and weeds, would be that the parable is inviting us to trust in this harvesting process and not try to do the separating ourselves.

The remez contained in this parable could be many. First (and foremost), consider the idea of fish and a net in relation to Ezekiel 47, keeping in mind that the image driving this passage is an apocalyptic vision of the restoration of all things:
There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.

Again, just like the case with the birds that came to nest in the branches of the mustard tree, the fish are representative of the Gentile nations in most Jewish tradition and rabbinic teaching that I have seen on Ezekiel 47.

Not only this, but again there is a reference to the angels throwing the bad into the “fiery furnace.” If this is also a remez, then we might have a couple of additional connections, as well. The first mention of “furnace” would be in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah — the story of judgment coming to those who did not show hospitality and mercy to the foreigner — a beautiful connection to Ezekiel 47. The addition of the “fiery” description causes many to think of the book of Daniel (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) and the tales of perseverance, which would also be a similar connection to the parable of the soils and the remez to Isaac persevering in the land. This all can be seen without even realizing one of the most massive stories told about Abram in the midrash is the story of him in a fiery furnace among the Gentiles.

All of this takes us much deeper into the parable to consider Jesus’s intended meaning. Could he be insinuating that the reason his followers should not be about the business of separating the weeds from the wheat and the good from the bad is that their primary calling in the world is to be a blessing to those very fish they might deem as bad? Could it be that if they did the work of God and judged the foreigner as a “weed” or a “bad fish” (even appropriately!), they would miss their calling (seen in Ezekiel 47 and all throughout Tanakh) and fall prey to the very judgment that awaited the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? And wait, haven’t we heard Jesus teach on this already?

So it seems like this Jesus character is a broken record. And yet, because of his teaching style and his implementation of Jewish parables, his broken record teachings are anything but redundant.

But they are like a broken record. And we may be wise to listen to the themes Jesus repeats throughout his ministry.

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