Put Out Your Nets

January 29, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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At Mass on Sunday, I was struck by the reference to fishing nets in the reading from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel:

“As (Jesus) passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; …Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.”

The reference struck me because I had just finished reading an article in the Sunday Times by the East Africa bureau chief. Jeffrey Gettleman, about a development all over Africa: people using the millions of nets provided them to prevent malaria as fishing nets. Not only does this increase the incidence of malaria; it also causes a range of other problems. Because the malaria nets have such a fine mesh, those fishing with them catch tinier and tinier fish, thus threatening the survival of the fish stocks on which many depend for food. In addition, the nets, which are dragged through the same lakes and rivers that people drink from, are sprayed with a carcinogenic insecticide. Even if the small amounts discharged into the drinking water don’t make the people themselves sick, they are much more likely to kill fish populations, since fish are smaller than people. And in smaller bodies of water–ponds–the carcinogenic danger to humans is more serious. Big fights have broken out between professional fishermen and ordinary people over the damage done by their use of mosquito nets for fishing. Some countries have outlawed the practice, but  it continues to be widespread. In villages around Lake Tanganyika, according to one study, 87.2 % of households use mosquito nets for fishing. Even families that have lost members to malaria do so because malaria is not as bad as starvation.

Now the Gospels aren’t entirely consistent on the subject of fishing nets. Even as Peter and Andrew throw away their nets to follow Jesus at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells Simon (Peter) to put out into the deep and put down his net for a catch.

It is also the case that during Sunday Mass in the parish I attend, I have heard prayers for the religious freedom of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East, and for the right to life of unborn babies. But I have never heard a mention of the Africans who die from malaria –more than half a million children in 2102 alone–or of the starvation that causes many Africans to risk catching it  because they are so hungry.  Maybe the disciples of Jesus need to be casting their nets in a different direction, or at least, in a much wider circle.



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