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Every hoarder’s worst nightmare is to find someone sorting through his belongings, and throwing into the trash items that he considers to be personal treasures. The Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) is imbued with this same intensity and shock.

The dragnet is a wide swath of netting drawn across open water, enclosing “some of every kind” along its way to the coast. Once on shore, the haul is dumped into one heap of squirming fish and sorted at a frenzied rate: “They sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.” (verse 48)


The lifelong fisherman works through the pile like a ballot-sorting machine. The fish is deemed either edible or unfit for human consumption based on one snap judgment alone: “pitch or keep.”

The parable serves as a jarring image for the final day: “So it will be at the end of the age.” (verse 49)

Like the hoarder who wants to let nothing go, the sinner would rather make drawn-out pleas for every misdeed harbored in the heart. Like the undecided voter, the soul longs for some write-in option in between sinner or righteous.

But once it starts, there is no room for excuses: “The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.” (verses 49-50)

No dumpster diving after the fact. No 4:00 A.M. adjustment to the vote tally.

To the unbeliever, it will be a nightmare. But as with every parable, the tension is resolved by the good news that the eager fisherman standing on the shore is Jesus, your Savior: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)

Faith in Him casts out all fear, because faith clings to His cross as the sole determining factor: “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32)

There on Golgotha, the Son of God was deemed fit for nothing other than the wrath your sins deserve: “He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12) But instead of being tossed to the burn pile, Jesus rose from the refuse of death as the glorious proof that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them.” (II Corinthians 5:19)

The words “impute,” “number,” and “reckon” are legal language. Like an election judge or court clerk tasked with sorting a heaping pile of paperwork, there is no time for anything short of a snap “approve-or-decline” judgment.

This means that, in divine court, the case is decided by faith alone. Just as Abraham believed and “it was accounted to him for righteousness,” so too “it shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:22-24)

In the final reckoning, the angels are given one directive: “These people either believe in Me, or they don’t.” This is no arbitrary judgment; rather, the criterion is the Gospelthe same Gospel by which the Lord calls and gathers you into His kingdom today.

Now, as the net draws closer, you might find yourself in close quarters with more than a few rotten fish. But our parable’s promise of a heavenly shore where every sin and woe is cast eternally away lets you rescind your rash judgments in favor of His perfect judgment. Trust that Jesus keeps you crammed in the net for your eternal good: “From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10)

Leave the sorting to the angels. You and I get to spend this time of grace finding the lost.

Timothy Daub is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hecla, South Dakota.