Fishing For Souls

It’s always best to hook ’em where they live

By Norris Burkes
August 2022

I think it was Jesus who encouraged followers to become “fishers of men.” Honestly, that task seems easier than fishing for fish.

Fishing requires a level of patience I don’t have. You’ll see this if you ever watch me pace the stage during one of my talks.

I was recently reminded of my distaste for fishing when I took my grandsons and their parents on a fishing boat in Seward, Alaska. We were fishing for the big halibut we’d seen people bring home the day before, 90-pound prehistoric monsters.

To begin the journey, I slap an anti-motion sickness patch on my arm and plunk down my credit card to charter a boat. Jon Tippit is the captain. I trust Jon because he has mentored my son, Michael, in his dream of being a captain. He’s also my neighbor in Auburn during winter months.

Including Jon, Michael and me, the little boat carries my wife Becky, our daughter Brittney, and her husband and two sons.

During our one-hour cruise toward the fishing grounds, Jon plays guide, pointing out dolphins, whales, puffins and World War II gun emplacements.

When we arrive, he drops anchor about 100 feet from a rock formation and we begin fishing in earnest. On my first cast, I pull up one rockfish.

A few minutes later, that little catch takes his revenge when my body begins to ache with sea sickness.

My teenage grandsons join me along the side, followed by their dad.

Besides the professional fishermen on board, the only other folks who stand their ground are the fisherwomen.

The whole experience has me wondering how Jesus was so successful in recruiting fishermen as his first disciples.

The story is told in Mark 1:16-18.

“One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed him.”

That passage bothers me because I come from a tradition that preaches how we Christians should always be out trolling for souls.

I was taught we must first hook the unsuspecting sinner and convince him he’s doomed. Get him to the church and help him toward the truth. This is the only way to save the poor fish, er, man.

But over the years, my chaplain work taught me a different angle.

Not all of us are fishermen. It seems more likely that Jesus employed the fishing metaphor to personalize his message to Simon and Andrew.

While these anglers understood the fish talk, you and I respond better to metaphors we know. For example, the teacher may hear Jesus say, “Follow me and teach my people.”

The musician hears, “Follow me and sing the joys of the kingdom.” The engineer may hear, “Follow me and help folks solve their most complex issues.”

All of us can hear different words that reflect our calling. “Follow me and I will make you (fill in the blank).”

In my line of work, it means helping people where they are, rendering the necessary aid. I’m not trying to change them into something they aren’t. In the end, I need to let Jesus do that.

Finally, I know the question you’re dying to ask: Did you catch the big one? We missed the elusive halibut, but Brittney caught six rockfish to my one.

Yup. I’m definitely not a fisherman.

Norris Burkes can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civic organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit

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