The Parable of the Dragnet-Discernment & Discrimination

Midweek Faith Lift

August 3, 2022

The Dragnet—Discrimination and Discernment

Rev. Deb Hill-Davis


Daily Reflection

June 6, 2022

          When Shahzeb Anwer traveled from Pakistan to Alabama to have surgery, he found much more than good health care. The people of Birmingham provided him a place to stay, meals, drove him around town, and cared for him post-surgery. Not only was the operation a success, his new friends had become family. It was only natural that, when he returned home to Pakistan to be married, he invited the entire Alabama city to the wedding.

         “You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but you always carry them in your heart, your mind, because you do not just live in the world. The world lives in you.” - Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth.

          Affirmative prayer: Infinite Presence, I give thanks for my beloveds, holding them in gratitude and high blessing. May the love we share feel like answered prayer, that they may know their gracious place in the heart of Life. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.

This morning we are exploring the parable of what Dr. Michael calls the “Dragnet” and it reads like this:

           Matthew 13:47-50

          47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (NRSV-UE)


Wow!  This parable is the third in a series that we have been exploring from Matthew.  The first one was about the treasure hidden in a field and the man who sold everything to buy the field that held the treasure.  Then we had the merchant who was searching for the pearl of great price, again he sold everything to obtain it when he recognized that pearl.  In those parables, we learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is all about the process whereby we awaken to a consciousness of love, of God, which is greater than we are: it is truly a treasure and at times it arises from irritation, like the pearl!


Now we learn that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a “dragnet” that catches all the fish, good and bad and they will be sorted at the end of the age, the evil and the righteous, with the evil burning in the fire.  The traditional understanding of this parable is that one should be among the “good fish” to be saved and not among the “bad” fish that burns in hell at the end of time.  Be ready for the Rapture, for Armageddon, or Judgment Day!  Yikes!  But notice that Jesus never mentions “hell” or the devil because he has debunked that notion in an earlier parable of the strong-armed man, where he said “a nation divided against itself cannot stand.”  And the Jesus message was all about how to live and treat each other in this world.  It was not about the end times!


So what in the world do we make of this parable?  Do you remember the old TV show called Dragnet?  It had Sergeant Joe Friday with his tagline: “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Who knew that the word “facts” would become such an emotionally charged word?  And the Dragnet of the TV show was a systematic and coordinated plan to catch known criminals on the loose in the city of Los Angeles.  It was a time when what we called “good” and “bad” was really black and white, just like the TV show.  But it was never that simple, and it still is not that simple, which is really the message of Jesus.


If we shift to a metaphysical understanding of this parable, then we consider the elements of the story from a higher perspective.  We have the ocean, or water which represents emotion and in Dr. Michael’s opinion, our subconscious mind.  He says on p. 129 of The Hidden Parables of Jesus:


           The ocean, the sea full of fish, represents what we now refer to variously as the subconscious mind or infinite intelligence, the “sea” of consciousness that looms beneath the level of conscious awareness.”


He likens it to the hard drive of the computer, which contains all the data of our lives, thoughts, feelings and memories both positive and negative.  All we can typically focus on is what is on the screen right in front of us, and we can make that narrow perspective the sum total of our reality.  When we do that, and for sure, we all do that, then we lose the larger perspective of the vast universe of data that is the sum total of the Internet, which is the vast Intelligence in the Mind of God.  The Universe, or God is large enough to hold it all, both what we call “good” and “bad.” 


Our challenge is to discern what is of Goodness and what is not.  And the purpose of the net is to pull up all the stuff that is below the surface of our personal “belief system,” our personal “BS” if you will!  If we stop and reflect on how many, many thoughts, feelings and reactions we have in one 24-hour period, it really is a challenge to get to “just the facts” isn’t it?  The process of “dragging a net” through our personal “belief system” or BS is what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.  What do we hold to be true that contributes to our good, to the good of the world?  What do we do with the painful things we “drag” to the surface, to the desktop of our conscious awareness? You really can’t just delete it, can you!  If you can’t feel it you can’t heal it!  This is not an easy process at all!


What we see in our world is an epidemic of “othering” and blaming others who have the “wrong facts” and hurting, desperate people whose only solution is to act out the hurt by angry words, gestures, harming, or killing one another.  When will this end, we lament!  Make the pain stop, I will do anything to make the pain stop, and we see people doing horrible, incomprehensible things from that place of pain.  When we don’t or won’t look at ourselves, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Jesus was correct in pointing that out in this parable.  There is another way, says the master teacher, a better way, and each of us is capable of finding it if and when we decide to do so.  That is the message of this parable.


What if we listened each other into life?  What if we listened each other into life?  What if we held our hearts open so that we could each explore our “BS” without fear of judgment or retribution?  What if we could support each other in this practice of listening and discernment?  What if we showed up with compassion for ourselves and for each other, ready to examine and perhaps let go of some of the rotten fish that we want to cling to so desperately?  Our capacity to do this is expressed in this parable as the “angels who come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”  If we remember that “evil” means immature and “righteous” means the right use, then we can begin a process that truly lets us “listen each other into life.”


How do I need to grow up, to mature, in order to discern the “right use” of my spiritual gifts, my human gifts?  Richard Rohr in his July 25 blog titled “Compassionate Listening” describes it this way:


            Can we take responsibility for the fact that we push people to polarized positions when we do not stand in the compassionate middle? I think of how often, during my talks, someone raises a hand and says, “I disagree with what you just said.” Often, they did not hear or understand what I said, and they don’t have the humility to ask, in a non-accusatory way: “Did I hear you correctly in saying . . . ?” or “What do you mean when you say . . . ?”


He continues to say how he is challenged to respond to that person with defensiveness and then tension rather than standing in the compassionate middle.  This is when we need the “angels” of the parable whereby we remember to breathe, to lean in and just allow the disagreement to be there.  How hard it is to be in that place and just say to the “disagreeable” person, “tell me more, tell me how you are thinking/feeling?” 


Most often we want to respond with our opinion (some of our own BS or rotten fish) when in fact we really are called to get to the essential truth…just the real facts, ma’am.  This practice calls for much more vulnerability, much more compassion.  It calls us to be in a place where we can see the life of God that is present in each of us, no matter how disguised or distorted.  It is the ultimate spiritual practice of true discernment that can hold space for what is really there: a hurting, lonely, angry, very human being that is just longing to be “listened into life.”  We are not alone in this practice, the power and presence of Spirit, of Love, of God, is always there with us when we need it and call upon it. 


I have to admit that when I first read the opening Daily Reflection, I felt skeptical that a Pakistani man could be held, loved, comforted and cared for by the people of Birmingham, Alabama, of all places.  Some of my distorted BS is showing there, for sure!  It is for sure that you do not just live in the world, the world lives in you from a place of love that listens you into life if we could just pause to hear!


Blessings on the Path,

Rev. Deb