It’s A Keeper!


With a cloudless sky over our heads like a canopy, and nothing visible in any direction as far as the eye could see except the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, I became a fisherman. I don't remember my first time fishing. I know I was young. I learned to fish on my grandfather's boat. In those days we fished with rods as big in diameter as broomsticks, that held Penn Senator reels filled with Dacron line, suspending multi-hooked gangions and one pound lead sinkers that my grandfather poured himself in the garage.

We would spend the better part of a day bobbing in the swell, the cool breeze singeing our arms and faces, while the sun’s rays warmed us. We would fish for red rock cod in the northern reaches of the Southern California Bight. You could catch an endless variety of fish in the places our quarry dwelled—every shape and color of rockfish, not to mention lingcod, halibut, even the occasional shark. And though each fish was beautiful and interesting and typically delicious in its own right, my Grandpa new which one was his.

It is a strange thing to fall in love with a fish. Some people fall in love with a particular species and will dedicate the rest of their lives to reeling in as many of them as they can. Red rock cod are considered by many to be the best of the local rock cod, though there are more than a dozen similar species and there are many better tasting and better fighting fish in the same waters. As a young man I wanted to catch everything in the sea.

My great joy was and often is the feeling of awe and amazement that comes from dropping a line into the abyss and catching something completely unexpected. I am no doubt compelled by novelty. What drove my grandfather was something deeper; something within him loved to reach over, into the water and pull out a keeper.

There are many different kinds of anglers. Some love the fight. They love the burning in their arms and pounding of their heart as the rod doubles over. They seek the sounds of the drags burning and the tinkling sound of monofilament stretched to its limit. It is a test of strength and angling skill to catch big fish and who doesn't like to stretch their arms out wide to describe the size of the beast they captured? Trophy fish show you to be a trophy fisherman.

Some enjoy peaceful times and relaxation—to say they went fishing is to say they were able to take a break, to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation. Fishing is about shore lunches and naps, good times and good friends. Fish are caught to have qualified the time spent and to show the individual to be a fisherman. The lover of a fish, especially a less noble species, is an enigma. What drives them out continually to get no accolades and no rest in pursuit of something of so little value to others is mysterious.

Our Lord was a carpenter, but he hung out with a lot of fishermen. I like to think He loved fishing the way my grandfather did. His promise to Simon Peter was to make him a fisher of men. The technique Jesus passed down to His disciples was like that of my grandfather. He relentlessly pursued the object of His affection. He has selected for Himself a peculiar people. He has specialized in catching a quarry maligned by most: the sinner. By most accounts there are better things to seek out. Yet, they are His and He has come to reel in as many as He can. He isn't concerned if anyone is impressed with His catch.

The gods of other religions want to catch the fighters, the ones who fight the good fight and show the angler to be something special. Other gods seem disinterested in catching. Their stories are centered around their own exploits. Jesus Christ is not like other gods—He does not look at the quality of the catch, He simply delights in it for reasons known only to Himself. He doesn't throw us back because we are too young or too old as some imagine He should. He doesn’t have a possession limit, so He isn’t looking to cull what He has caught. The worst are never thrown out to make way for the best.

Jesus Christ has delighted in bringing you to Himself. He has cast out before you the lure of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness and mercy that those who know their sin, cannot resist. From there He has hooked you and drew you to Himself until in the consummation of His work Christ reached into the water, laid hold of you, and exclaimed "It's a keeper!"

Kevin McClain grew up fishing and surfing in Southern California. He is an avid outdoors-man. He attended Seminary at Wittenburg Institute and was recently ordained as a minister in the NALC. He has a wife and four young children.