Friday, February 26, 2010

Matthew 4:19

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

One of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood, is fishing with my father on the banks of the streams and rivers near Red’s Meadows. It was primitive in those days. I cannot recall there being any nearby towns. Our tent was pitched in the trees near the river; Devil’s Post Pile was hardly a stone’s throw away. I baited my first hook, caught and gutted my first fish in central California. I think that my father was tickled that he had taught his boy to do something that he loved to do. However, when I first memorized Matthew 4:19 as part of my Daily Vacation Bible School experience, I was somewhat disconcerted and mildly disturbed.

I do not recall exactly how our teachers attempted to visualize the memorization process. In many Vacation Bible Schools today, however, the image of the baited hook is used to help the children understand what it is to be a “fisher of men”. My guess is that there are thousands of little children that are struggling as badly as I did to understand what Jesus had in mind when he began calling his Apostles to the ministry. I fear that internalizing the message and the appeal is, in the end, is too far off of the mark with the image of the line and the pole.

The apostolic call was not to be considered passive; sitting on the banks of a stream with pole in hand, waiting for a indolent fish to rise to the bait, is not the sort of activity that Jesus had in mind when he called out to Peter and Andrew to join him on his quest to invited the children of men to partake of eternal life. The sons of Jonas and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, were net fishermen, arising in the early hours of the morning, sailing to their appointed place, and proactively casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee for their fish. It was hard work; some days there was little to show for all of their labors. In Luke’s account of the Savior’s call to Peter, the circumstances illustrated the nature of the task.

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

Years ago I served as a fisher of men, for two and a half years in southern Mexico. It was a time of joyful service; it was a time that defined much of what I would become as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher. I had a small taste of that which the Apostles enjoyed for the rest of their lives. I learned something about the nature of net fishing that the Savior taught his disciples in one of the parables preserved in Matthew chapter 13.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:47-50)

That was a sobering proposition: not every creature that the gospel net enclosed would ultimately be found worthy to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. I knew that I had been successful as a missionary, insofar as the numbers were concerned, but I have not been in a position to know exactly what sort of fish were ultimately brought to shore. How many were good? How many were bad? I certainly wanted all of them to be good, that all of them would find peace, joy, and comfort in the truths to which they had been introduced. For a time I like talking about those who had come into the Church at my hands, but as time passed, I became a little more introspective, hoping that my friends would hold fast to the truth of all things that I had been the instrument in the hands of the Father to bring to them. This brings me to another one of the Lord’s analogies about missionary work.

The prophet Jeremiah devoted a great deal of his writings to the latter-day gathering of the children of God from out of the world.

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:14-16)

There were to be fishers and hunters. I once speculated as to what would be the difference between the two sorts of missionaries. A net fisherman casts his net and pulls in many fish at a time. The hunter finds the object of his search one creature at a time. Numerically, one appears to be extraordinarily successful; the other appears to have squandered his time in a great deal of ranging about. Yet, it is the Lord who calls for the fishers; it is the Lord who calls for the hunters; each is suited to the task to which he is set. There is nothing but folly in making comparisons between the efforts of missionaries in various parts of the world according to the numbers of new disciples that have been brought into the Church and Kingdom of God.

I have learned to be content to do the best I can, looking forward to opportunities for improvement. If I am truly His servant, then I leave the judgment, the evaluation of my labors and that of my fellow men, to Him. I hope that my efforts will one day be approved and I be found acceptable in my eternal Father’s eyes, just as my efforts were momentarily approved on the banks of the San Joachin River more than sixty years ago.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Psalms 23

I do not suppose that I was required to memorize the whole of the 23rd Psalm in Daily Vacation Bible School, but from the time I was a child, this hymn of Israel was as familiar to me as any passage of scripture. Someone has said that the King James version of the Bible is the greatest literary piece in the English language, the most beautiful ever to have been penned. If that is the case, then Psalms 23 is the gemstone in that literary crown. It is hard to imagine that anything could excel it.

During the last few years of my teaching career, I decided to create a series of Paraphrastic Studies (a term of my own devising) which was intended to be a broad, but accurate, translation from Greek into English, each of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul. Inasmuch as Greek is a polysemous language (where single words may convey a multitude of meanings), this sort of translation seemed to correct a fault which almost all language translations suffer. Any attempt at word-for-word translation is doomed to failure because of the innumerable nuances that one language has which are difficult to equate in the target language. After completing that particular project, I turned to the Psalms of the Old Testament, creating three volumes of Paraphrastic Studies in the process of time. I cannot speak to their literary value, but I can speak with some authority as to the accuracy of the translation. I include below the Study that was written for Psalms 23, line by line.

1. A Psalm of David.

A mizmor or hymn, of David the King of Israel.

1. The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.

The Lord God of Heaven and of earth is my King, He who watches over me and tenderly attends to me as shepherd cares for His flock. He delights in me, and I in Him; and He holds me to His bosom, and speaks kindly to me. In His arms I will suffer no lack, but shall be in abundance all of my days.

2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

In peace my Shepherd-King brings me into His safe place, to recline in His dwelling, a land of fresh and verdant meadows, grass and tender herbs. The Lord God of Israel sustains me, carefully watching over me, guiding me to gentle streams, deep, cool, and tranquil, the waters of Shiloah.

3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The Lord God has redeemed me from all ill, and has turned my heart from the ways of the wicked; I am freed from the bondage of death and hell. He has encouraged me, has urged me to follow after the faithful, whose course of life has been clearly marked by their righteous conduct, and my blessings are as theirs, for His path is one eternal round. For the work that He has taken upon Himself, and the glory with which He adorns Himself, brings me back into His presence so that I might dwell with Him forever.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Even though I am led through a lowland where the thick darknesses run together as a torrents of fear and tribulation, though pestilence and destruction surround me about, though I pass through the very jaws of hell into the realms of the dead, I will not lose my faith in thee, O Lord God of my fathers, for no inescapable calamity will befall me, for the covenant of thy lips will not let me fail while I am in thy keeping. Thou hast supported me through every difficulty and will continue to do so. The crook of the shepherd who is King will protect and preserve me, bring solace to my soul; the scepter of the King who is shepherd will ward off all oppression, taking revenge upon the wicked and the ungodly.

5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

The altar of thy covenant is set in order, and I am placed in the midst thereof, and make an acceptable sacrifice before thee, while those who would have distressed me look upon me. Thou and I are bound together in the covenant of peace; they are bound over to the day of vengeance. Thou hast blessed me with the good things of the earth, and my joy is uncontainable. Thou hast ordained me to be first among my brethren, and hast made me to be strong, filled with the power of thy arm and hand, having poured upon me the oil of gladness. Thou hast made me to feel welcome in thy habitation, within the confines of thy holy house, and my happiness is full to overflowing.

6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I have no doubts, either in my mind or in my heart, that the blessings with which I have been blessed will continue, for my soul is merry forever, all that which is beautiful and pleasant thou hast promised me by thy own voice, therefore it will be my happy lot to enjoy thy benevolence toward me, thy kindness and zealous love that thou bearest for me, for the rest of my life. One day according to thy infinitely compassionate will, I will return into thy presence, O Lord God of Israel, to dwell by thy side for eternity.