Maybe we've been going about it all wrong.
You know, the in hoc signo thing, converting the king, defeating and baptizing the hordes, Gothic cathedrals, pilgrimages, relics, auto da fés. And more recently, televangelism, rallies, megachurches, blockbuster serial novels, and a graphic Passion on the big screen...
Where's the subtlety, where's the cunning and skill in any of that? Where's the cleverly planned gotcha! moment?
"Come, follow me, and I'll teach you to fish for men," Jesus said to Peter and Andrew. How many fish do you catch, I wonder, by making a lot of noise and disturbing the quiet of the lake? Fishermen spend long hours out there on the sea's placid surface, waiting with baited hook for the first sign of a tug. Then what do they do, pull out a gasoline-powered crane? No, they depend on their two hands and sheer muscle strength to reel in the writhing, struggling creature. Our prey are slippery types. We forget to ask ourselves, as a New Testament professor once asked our class, "Have you ever known a fish that wanted to be caught?" But we think that bigger, louder, and more threatening will ultimately lure them.
On the contrary, stealth and surprise are indispensable elements of Jesus' fishing tackle. What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? --a lost penny, a treasure hidden in a field, a bit of yeast kneaded into dough, a thief coming in the middle of the night, the tiniest of seeds...
And we Christians, the supposed followers of the no-account rabbi from Lower Middle Eastern Podunk, how do we sneakily bait and catch men (and women)? With bulk mailings, fire and brimstone railings, condemnations, and promises of pie-in-the-sky...with mass produced holy pictures, billboards that proclaim to our fellow gas-guzzlers Jesus died for your sins, nonstop Christmas carols (Do you hear what I hear? Yeah, and I sure wish they'd shut it off!), and sanctimonious demands to display an artificially illuminated plastic Nativity scene in front of the downtown municipal building.
You know, I bet the common, run-of-the-mill Palestinian peasant would have laughed too...before running in the opposite direction.
And then, of course, we throw back the very ones that Jesus would have reeled in and kept:
Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame...and maybe also the gays, the addicts, the foreclosed, and those with piercings in strange or embarrassing places. Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. Sometimes I get the feeling that Jesus wasn't as particular as we are.
Devious, subversive, and welcoming. Maybe that's the trick...