A few years ago I was trout fishing with my friend Terry Garvin on Arkansas’ White River. We were actually at the mouth of the Norfork where it enters the White. We were working out of a fiberglass john boat, the type that have been used to run Arkansas rivers for generations. The weather was cool but sunny and pleasant.
Our guide, Lonnie, was in the stern, of course, handling the outboard. Garvin was in the middle seat and I was in the bow. Lonnie was idling the boat up the Norfork where we were going to rendezvous with the other half of our party for a shore lunch. Garvin was using an ultralight spinning rig tipped with a single blade Mepps. I was fly fishing and not catching much but Garvin was pulling them in with regularity.
Lonnie knew that Garvin was a Baptist minister so he liked to exchange Biblical views. I never knew how or if Lonnie’s views squared with Garvin’s. I still don’t. But it made for entertaining listening.
We were idling past the boat ramp and up the Norfork. Garvin made a cast and caught a trout; a freshly stocked rainbow about 12 inches long and without much color. Lonnie scooped the fish and tossed it into the livewell and told us to reel in. It was time to meet the other boat for lunch.
“Lonnie,” I said. “When we pull over for lunch Terry will have to clean his own fish.”
Lonnie gave me a quizzical look. Garvin and I had traveled together. He knew what was coming. If he disagreed he never said so. But if he agreed he didn’t say so, either.
“It’s a Biblical truth,” I explained. “Pastors have to clean their own fish.”
I explained that this curious tidbit is found in chapter 21 of John’s gospel. It probably doesn’t get much attention at Seminary and bible college. But it’s one of my favorite stories.
Anyone who’s ever attended Sunday School probably knows the story. Seven of the disciples go fishing. Peter is the ring leader. These guys fished for a living but they’ve been on the water all night and caught nothing. Jesus shows up at dawn and asked if they’ve caught any fish. No, they say, and the scriptures at least hint that they answered rather curtly. Jesus tells them to fish on the other side of the boat and they do and haul in a net full of fish. The Christian baggage here is heavy but the reference (okay, it’s slightly implied) to pastors cleaning fish comes in verse 9 when John points out that a charcoal fire is burning on the shore with fish laid out on it. John, the gospel writer, doesn’t mention anyone else on the beach leaving his readers (at least some of us) to assume that the Christ cleaned his own fish as he prepared breakfast for the disciples.
I relayed this story to Lonnie, who responded with a look that said, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“If the Risen Lord cleaned his fish in preparing a shore lunch for his disciples that doesn’t leave guys like Garvin much choice. Pastors should clean their own fish,” I explained. “Deacons, too, for that matter.”