Do you remember going to the movies in the “old days?” There was a moment in which a car starting driving away from the camera, or a horse started moving off into the distance, or a couple headed down the street away from view. We knew what they meant, and sure enough the words, “The End” appeared on the screen.
This was a letdown moment for me. I remember wishing the movie would go on forever, or at least there would be a “double feature.”
There is something about us that does not want to see the words “The End” appear on the camera, especially if we are enjoying the movie. And there is something about us that does not want to even think about “The End” occurring in our lives. We learn to train our minds to avoid the topic.
For the past two days Jesus has been talking about “The End” of time. Faced with the realities of what will happen, we become uncomfortable and want to flip the pages of our Bible to tomorrow’s more pleasant reading.
Still talking to his disciples Jesus explained: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.”
So far, so good. They had seen fishermen going through this collection routine. We may not see fishermen at work, but we watch amateur gardeners separate the good tomatoes from the bad tomatoes before they bring them into the house. Not every fish in the sea is good for eating, and not every tomato is worth bringing to the table.
We would think, however, that the Kingdom of Heaven, at the end, would gather just the “good fish” and let the bad fish go on swimming in the lake. It is still a mystery that God does not let the bad fish swim in the lake to start with, but let’s them keep company with the good ones. We wonder why He waits till the end to dispose of the fish that are useless to him.
Now the “not so good” part of the story. Jesus interprets the parable.
“Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into a fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Our “fairy-tale-ish” age wants to think Jesus didn’t really mean this. Surely he will throw the bad fish back in the water and give them another chance. Surely there is no such thing as a “fiery furnace” or “wailing and grinding of teeth.” No one really falls into the “bad fish” category.
Let’s use our common sense. What good are rotten fish? Do they really serve a purpose? Have you ever smelled a bad fish? We don’t want to leave them lying around, so we send them to the incinerator to be destroyed. Do they wail and grind their teeth as they are tossed into the fire? I doubt it. This is something that tortured humans do.
It is not popular to talk about heaven and hell these days. We’d rather think that everyone qualifies for heaven and we’ll all go to a “better place” when we die. This gives us a good feeling. Jesus, however, did not teach this. Remember he told Nicodemus that unless someone be born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven? The saving power of Jesus Christ can transform bad fish into good ones before the net is cast into the water.
Listening to Jesus talk about “The End,” gives us a sense of urgency in getting ourselves ready for this unpredictable moment when harvest comes. It also gives us a sense of urgency to evangelize and help qualify other fish for the kingdom of God. We have a big job cut out for ourselves before the words, “The End” appear on the screen.
“Open our hearts, O Lord, to listen to the words of your Son” (Acts 16:14).