A Word of Grace – October 3, 2012

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

Hello from stormy Stowe, Vermont where I am at a client meeting. I have been traveling since September 13 and took a break from writing these messages.

This is the tenth message in a series on the sea stories of Jesus.

Matthew was the tax collector in Capernaum (Mark 2:13-14). Because fishing and the sale of dried fish were major industries in the town, he surely would have known the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John prior to their calling by Jesus.

Being a tax collector meant Matthew was shunned and despised by his people, but it also meant that he was literate in Aramaic and Greek. His Gospel contains more prophecy than the other Gospels and is the most complex in its themes. He focuses on Jesus ushering in the kingdom of God as its king.

Matthew is the only gospel writer to record the “Parable of the Net.” I think that parable had a special meaning to him. Jesus’ initial encounter with Matthew was simple, direct and full of joy. It ended with a party. I try to capture the spirit of that encounter in this message.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:47-51)

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him (Matt 9:9).

There are some surprises on the Capernaum waterfront this afternoon. A record catch is being off-loaded from the boats of Simon and Andrew the sons of Jonah and James and John the sons of Zebedee.

The word going around is that the catch was so large that it ripped the nets and almost sank the boats. A rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, is present and is said to have directed the daytime fishing after he had used Simon and Andrew’s boat for a platform to address the large crowd that followed him to the shore. The crowd is gathering around him once again.

A fishing rabbi is unheard of . . . unthinkable really. But then I never heard a rabbi teach like this Jesus. His message is fully consistent with the law and the prophets to be sure,  yet, it’s different. He rests the whole framework on God’s love for his children in ways that make me say to myself, “That makes perfect sense. Why have I never heard this before?”

I always wanted to be a rabbi, but life and its necessities got in the way. Studying the law is my avocation. Thinking about the kingdom of God is my passion.  My study and passion are not hopeful, though. They are the obsession of an unfaithful lover who too late comes to long for what could have been and will never be.

I collect taxes under the authority of the Roman emperor, taking a cut of whatever goods and products are produced for sale in this region. I keep a share for myself and pass the balance along to Rome to underwrite the costs of imperial ambitions. This makes me an outcast, shunned by the priests, religious scholars and Pharisees as a traitor, thief and blasphemer.  The Zealots will murder me, given an opportunity.

Rome is hated by the people of Galilee and its taxes are hated even more. “How can you, a Jew, do this to your own people?” they ask me. “You have embraced the Gentiles and pagans, worshiping Caesar as he demands instead of the living God!”

My answers are what you would expect. “Someone is going to collect these taxes. Isn’t it better that it’s one of our own? I’m making a living in these tough times. Now, pay up or else!” Yet, strangely, I crave the forgiveness of the Lord and his righteousness.

Excluded from the regular venues of my faith, I have found some common ground with the very fishermen that I tax. Simon, Andrew, James and John all have a keen interest in the kingdom of God. Our spiritual interests have given us something to talk about besides fish and money. Their questions are treated with no less contempt by the religious scholars than mine are. They know that I am fair in my accounting and that I give them the benefit of any doubt in my assessments of the value of their catches.

This afternoon, I find a place to sit in the shade and read a scrap of Scripture parchment. I listen to Jesus answer questions from the crowd while I wait for the fishermen to sort out the edible and saleable fish from the trash fish, turtles, frogs, and debris that are caught up in the nets with the fish. I trust the fishermen to do an honest job of this and will wait until they are through to assess the tax due.

Jesus is watching me. I feel his eyes on me and I look up. He does not avert his gaze. “What does the prophet Isaiah say to you?” he asks.

“How does he know I’m reading Isaiah?” I wonder.  “The prophet speaks the Word of the Lord that His people will yet glorify His name and be vindicated in the land that He has given them.”

“And you serve Caesar as a tax collector.” Is it a question or an accusation? Jesus speaks quietly. The flush I feel is from someplace deep and hot within me.

I look away from Jesus to the fishermen emptying the nets. The response does not need my words.

Jesus follows my eyes to the nets. “A net has no wisdom and makes no judgment,” he says. “It brings in fish of every kind, both the good and the bad, the valuable and the worthless. No one can tell what is in the net, until the fisherman examines its contents. It is given to the fisherman to decide what to keep and what to throw away. So it is with the kingdom of God. At the end of time, the Lord will send his angels to separate the evil from the righteous. Only then will the Lord decide who he will keep and who will be discarded for eternity.”

He turns his eyes back to me and he smiles.

I will hear him tell this parable again and write it down, but I will never forget hearing it this first time. It is the ninth hour of the day. It smells like fish. I know in my heart that a door is open for me to step inside.

An hour later, Jesus and the fishermen pass my tax booth where I am reconciling the day’s receipts. “Wait,” he calls out to them and he walks over to the booth. “Follow me,” he says. I stand up and follow him.

“Tonight, we’ll have a party,” I tell him. “I have some friends I want you to meet” (Mark 2:15).

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,




Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


Kent HansenKent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.