Just in time for lent McDonald’s is releasing its newest product—the Fish McBite. For those who grew up with the Friday Filet-O-Fish, this new McDonald’s treat is a “healthy” twist on the old favorite. Best of all it is sustainable. The fish in the McBites are 100% wild-caught Alaskan Pollock from a sustainable fishery. Next time you’re in the drive through you can feel good about the battered fish bites you’re putting in your mouth.
I thought of the Fish McBite as I recently read Luke 5:1-11. Here we have the story of Jesus giving fishing advice. The disciples are tired from a long night in the boats, and yet Jesus says, go put out the nets again. They are not disappointed—their boats almost sink because of the abundance. It’s a strange story, rich with meaning and symbolism. Jesus who is just gathering his band of disciples seems to be teaching a lesson—follow me; this is the kind of reality I am leading you into.
The reaction of Peter is particularly instructive. It was he who said, “We have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” He knows the odds are against them, but he is teachable, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When the fish fill the nets and boats, overwhelming them, Peter falls down at Christ’s feet confessing his state as a sinful man. Jesus responds by saying, “Do not be afraid.”
Why would Jesus say, “Do not be afraid”? Why would Peter catch a boatload of fish and confess his sin? The reason is that Jesus did not just help some fisherman catch some fish, he overwhelmed them with a kingdom that is to come. This is a story that will continue throughout the disciples’ time with Jesus, exhibited again and again in every healing, every miracle. Jesus did not come to help the world as it is, Jesus came to usher in a more profound reality—not supernature, but the Kingdom of God.
Alexander Schmemann explains this point well in his beautiful book, For the Life of the World. Sacraments, says Schmemann, are “always a passage, a transformation. Yet it is not a ‘passage’ into ‘supernature,’ but into the Kingdom of God, the world to come, into the very reality of this world and its life as redeemed and restored by Christ.” The same could be said of the miracles of Jesus. They are not ways to heal the world as it is, but a sign of the reality that is coming into the world. This is a key to understanding Jesus’ actions around the Sabbath. The religious authorities couldn’t understand why Jesus would violate the Sabbath to heal people with chronic diseases (someone who is blind since birth could just as well be healed on Monday). But Jesus is not healing as a doctor would, a way to make this world just a little better place. Jesus is offering a sign of a new reality.
It’s notable that we aren’t told that Peter and his fellow fisherman went to the market and sold all those fish, making enough to support their missionary efforts into the future. Instead, we are led to believe that they saw the world Jesus was ushering them into and left that other world, where such things as selling fish matter, behind.
And this brings us back to Fish McBites. They come from a sustainable fishery—great! But they are sold at McDonalds, whose very nature and reality works against the flourishing of the creation. McDonald’s cannot, by its nature, ever be sustainable much less good. Neither can Wal-Mart however much effort and money they put into sky lights and “local” sourcing of food. They are a part of a different kind of reality, out of step with the kingdom coming. Sustainable Fish McBites help, but we are beyond help.
This story of Jesus shows us that there is a more terrifying and amazing world we could enter. But most of us are too afraid to step in, so we keep our miracles safe, our faith a useful auxiliary. We recycle, we buy organic, we drive a hybrid—God is our co-pilot. We feel good and we do not realize our displacement, how out of step we are with the world that God wants to bring. That is why our confessions are general and rote; we do not realize how wrong we are. But Jesus is saying, put out the nets, do not be afraid. Will we allow for such wonder?