Week 5 – The Net
As I’ve said in previous weeks, these parables occur in pairs, and the Parable of the Net occurs in parallel, at least thematically, with the Parable of the Weeds in 13:24-30. These parables that describe distinguishing between those that belong to the Kingdom and those that don’t bookend the whole section, with the explanation of the Parable of the Weeds lying right in the middle between the first three parables and the last three. Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom’s exponential growth (mustard and leaven) and the Kingdom’s precious nature (treasure and pearl) occur within the context of his clarification that not all participate in that growth and not all find it precious.
The story Jesus tells of the net is one straight out of the lives of his fishermen disciples. This process of dragging a net to shore and then sorting the fish was one way fishermen made a living on the Sea of Galilee. The contextualization goes further though. When Jesus talks about good fish and bad fish, he isn’t talking about nice looking fish and icky looking fish; he’s talking about clean and unclean fish as defined by the Torah. Turn to Leviticus 11:9-12 and you’ll see that Jews in Jesus’ era (and plenty still today) only ate true fish, those with scales and fins, and avoided anything that didn’t fit that description like shellfish, squid, eels, stingrays, etc. Jesus’ audience would have known that the men in his story were sorting the fish not based on arbitrary values (preferring mahi to catfish, for instance) but instead based on a clear standard (fins and scales) set by God himself. What we can get out of that is three-fold: 1. any distinction between who belongs in the Kingdom and who doesn’t can only be determined by the King, 2. that distinction is between what is clean and what is unclean, and 3. the difference between clean and unclean is quite clear (cf. the Parable of the Weeds). Thus God declares what is clean and unclean, and only the clean have membership in his Kingdom.
At this point we need to eject any notion that clean is a quality that can be gained by effort. The clean fish didn’t grow fins out of their hard work. The only way we can be clean is if God declares it, and the narrative of the Bible explains throughout it’s length that this declaration can’t be earned or achieved, it can only be given. Thinking especially in a Levitical mindset, the source of our cleansing isn’t our attempts at abiding by the rules, it’s in Jesus’ spilled blood. 1 John 1:7, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Now, in each of these parables Jesus relates the Kingdom to a specific item like a seed or a pearl. Interestingly though, there are other things in the net parable that could’ve been described as the Kingdom, like the baskets the clean fish were sorted into. On the face of it that would make more sense, right? The Kingdom contains God’s people, therefore the container for the clean fish is the Kingdom. Or perhaps the good fish could’ve been the Kingdom; that would’ve made sense along with the Parable of the Weeds, where the good seed is the “sons of the kingdom.” But instead Jesus describes the Kingdom as the net, containing both clean and unclean fish, which will only get sorted out at the end of the ages. Why is that?
I think what this narrows in on is belonging. Belonging in the Kingdom isn’t just by being in the net, cleaning up your behavior, running with the right crowd (or swimming with the right school), or even doing really good Christian things. Belonging in the Kingdom is only by being declared clean. All other criteria for belonging is pointless, all other attempts at belonging are futile. And we should work to align ourselves with God’s view on what makes us clean, partly because it’s a practice in trusting God at his word and partly because it will free us from our attempts at performing or worry over not feeling acceptable. Asking yourself, “Based on how I’m living right now, what do I believe makes me clean?” is perhaps one of the best ways you can do regular maintenance on your faith.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Matthew 13:47-50 for us?
• What stands out to you from this parable?
• Why do you think Matthew ends this set of Kingdom parables with this one?
• In our sermon series on Matthew 13, what have been some of the biggest takeaways for you?
• How has this series influenced the way you think and feel about God’s Kingdom?