Parables and stories always have a context. And the story below came about on our way home from the Sunday morning church service. My phone buzzed and, since I was in the passenger seat, I could see right away that someone had tweeted at me: “Are you a real Christian or just hanging out with Jesus?” A megachurch-induced traffic jam gave me time to ponder the question and shoot a message to a friend I look up to. He asked, pointedly, “What do “real Christian” and “just hanging out with Jesus” mean in this question?” This story played out in my mind as the standstill traffic crept along.
Lines of high-powered, guzzling cars were being directed by Frank, a county police officer, as they spilled out of the several megachurches along the main roads to home.
The guest speaker, a hairy man well under 6 foot, with uneven teeth, a stubbled look, and caring eyes but not in the least handsome, had emptied the church early, unexpectedly after only telling a few short stories. Simple as they were, however, his stories had stirred curiosity that had caused an exodus only 15 minutes into the Sunday service. He concluded with an unassuming invitation to follow him to the lake to go fishing.
People buzzing with curiosity were expecting baptisms or an outreach training that this eccentric pastor was referring to as “fishing”. Many were to be disappointed when, upon arriving at the lake, fishing rods and a cooler were loaded onto a small boat—a clear indication that actual fish and wine where to be consumed that early midday when a perfectly good sermon could have been heard, critiqued and discussed over lunch at the local fast food restaurant.
Leaving the church building, the guest pastor jumped into an electric car with two other guys who didn’t look very “churchy” and a not-so-modestly dressed curvy lady in the back seat, smoking and giggling, with fishing poles sticking out the back window. The pastor jumped in and they said, “Great to see you again, Jesse. How was your sermon?”
They chatted as they headed for the lake, with a line of cars following. Though the service inside had not officially ended, even the lead pastor who had invited Jesse to speak jumped on his Harley to follow behind the electric car that had now caused a lot of tailgating.
Jesse and friends made it to the lake, piled out towards the dock and into a small yet comfortable leisure boat. Besides Jesse, Samantha was drawing the most attention, as people arriving in the parking lot—mostly the guys—noticed this beautiful lady with long brunette hair. Sadly, some of the men knew exactly who she was, and one even started to turn around and leave when he heard a man’s voice inside say, “Don’t go home, come fishing with me.”
Samantha’s tanned face was radiant with joy as she puffed a cigarette and helped Jesse set out the wine and bread as the two other men gathered the anchor, got the motor ready and launched the boat. By this time many cars had accumulated and people were spilling over the grassy bank to the water’s edge.
Jesse’s friends asked what to do now, now that all the churchy crowd had gathered. He said to pull in towards shore a little bit, and the crowd began sitting down, expecting some kind of repeat of a sermon they knew quite well.
“Everyone who is hungry, come fishing with me, everyone who is thirsty come fishing with me.”
Along the shore, boats and boats appeared. Enough boats to hold everyone there. One man, nonplussed by the mysterious boats, turned to Roy and asked what type of “evangelism” or “outreach” this guy was referring to by getting into boats? Was it going to be biblical?
Jesse seemed to overhear and just laughed, then called, “Hey Roy, please invite him along too, we are going fishing today with everyone who is up for it. Who’s in? The plan is to catch some lunch and hang out and talk. Sound good?”
As he said the word “good”, Jesse’s eyes landed on a man in the third row, Steve, who knew Samantha and had been shocked that Jesse was in a boat with her. Their eyes met and the man looked down at the ground then at his wife who was at his side.
Roy, along with about a dozen or so men and women were climbing into boats, but most of the crowd stayed put, just watching, with slight smiles on their faces, as if they knew something. Some of them opened their Bibles and started talking about a chapter and verse they thought Jesse had misquoted. Jesse himself seemed not to notice their words, but called out once more. “Anyone else comin’ fishing? There’s always room for more.”
Steve let go of his wife’s hand, kissed her and ran into one of the empty boats. Once seated, he found to his surprise that Jesse was there in his boat. He was sitting face-to-face with Jesse all to himself.
As it happened, every person who had taken up Jesse’s offer to fish had the same experience. Jesse was somehow in all of the boats with fishing poles ready, setting out the bread and wine (and beer for those who didn’t like wine and even soda drinks for those who didn’t drink alcohol). Steve called out to his wife and she joined her husband and Jesse as they struck out onto the lake.
All the boats were moving, and it was curious to see so many Jesses. A handful of vessels began to fish, bobbing along the far lake shore where deer gathered and eagles soared above them. No highways, no restaurants, just wild national park, mountains in the distance.
One man who had arrived late to the church service that morning and had run into the crowd following Jesse to the lake, found himself in a boat with a few other people. That morning he had thought that joining his family at this Sunday’s service before his business meeting would add to the Christmas and Easter services that he usually attended and he would be doing pretty well for this year so far. Jesse turned to him and said, “Great to see you, Robert, I’m glad you made it to come fishing. Nice suit. You may want to put the jacket and tie here in the cabin.”
One of the boats was filled with guys who had surreptitiously kept close to Samantha’s boat. Jesse in their boat steered them away, smiling and shaking his head, and turned into a little dock. He said, “Hey guys, I think fly fishing is a better option for you today. I want to teach you how to love and respect ladies like Samantha.”
One man chuckled at the word “lady” and murmured something under his breath. In one swift and effortless motion, Jesse threw him overboard, chuckling to himself. The man swore then shouted up at the guest pastor, who was already on the dock, heading for a trail.
Jesse called back, “You can still join us as we hike up into those mountains for trout, but you’re carrying all our gear! Don’t be a brute, be a man. Samantha’s my daughter and you’re my son, and family doesn’t say things that hurt.” The man pulled himself out of the shallow water and picked up everyone’s gear. He never did call a lady anything else than a lady from that day on.
Back on the other shore near the parking lot, the crowd had managed to delay one Jesse, shouting out for more sermons, more studies, more workshops on prayer. “Teach us the Bible!” they said, “Teach us how about….” But Jesse cut them off with a hand signal. “Yes, I will teach you,” he said, “I’ll teach you to relate to me, to spend time with me. Put your Bibles down for a moment, step into the boat and begin this story afresh.”
Sensing that some were wondering whether they would need pen and paper for this “new story”, he began to call people in the crowd by name. A few joined him, sitting down in boats, but most had reasons they didn’t have time for fishing. Many listed church board and building meetings, choir practice and discipleship training, and one woman said she had a missionary visiting from out of town and wanted to be a good host. Another had already planned to take a friend to a movie, something about God not being dead. Jesse chuckled as he waved goodbye.
“Well I guess I’ll see you all next Sunday.”
Sadly, though, as the boats full of Jesses and his friends went further abroad on the lake, those still on shore dipped their oars in the waters of scandal. One man called out, “If Jesus was here he would certainly stop this Jesse character! Can you believe he said to leave our Bibles and just go fishing?” Some spotlighted the wine, and one noted that it looked like he even lit up a friend’s cigar on one of the boats. Another commented on the scantily-dressed model sitting next to him. More than friendly, were they? Probably his girlfriend.
Meanwhile in the boat, Samantha asked Jesse, “How was church this morning, sorry I couldn’t be there… you know…” Jesse smiled and said, “Yeah, it was ok. But man, do those people need a lot of… what’s the word…?” “Work?” she suggested.
“Yes, they do need that! But mostly they need…relationship. So many of them have forgotten what it’s like to be close to me.” “But don’t they get to know you from going to church and doing that religious stuff and reading the Bible and all that?” Samantha asked. “Maybe” Jesse replied, “It is possible and some certainly do.” “Good for them,” Samantha added.
“Yes, good for them,” Jesse confirmed, “Well said, Samantha, but good for you, too, for choosing to spend copious amounts of time with me, untouched by guilt, just because you love me.”
“Jesse you know I love you, but you know who I am. I’m the woman those men want, and the woman they can get, for a price.” “I know, Samantha, I know. And that is why we shall enjoy fishing, and I’ll teach you a new way.”
As they cast out their lines that day, every person found that as she or he began talking to Jesse that it was just the two of them, chatting and sharing for what seemed like hours. Then, as they returned back to the shore, their friends appeared back in the boat with them, and they all swapped stories about what Jesse had said to them.
Back on shore, some still smoking, most with breath smelling of wine, and everyone with a fish or two in hand, they watched as Jesse headed back out in a boat for a few more fish, just by himself. Someone suggested that they pray together, to help get through the week. Their friends and family in the non-fishing group who had already left, seemed a bit upset already that they had missed meetings and planned gatherings, and those in the small group on the shore prayed that they would remain joyful and close to what Jesse had spoken to them face-to-face out on the boats.
The sun setting, they all piled back into their cars, hitching rides with others if their ride had already left with the non-fishing crowd. Later they would cook up a delicious fish feast for their family and friends, breaking bread together, and telling and re-telling what Jesse had said and done on the lake. When they were criticized and even kicked out of their churches for all the time they hung out with Jesse, they gently reminded those questioning that everyone was invited and Jesse would go fishing with them anytime.