The Parable of the Mexican FishermanTim Kinnard
I don’t remember where I first heard it, but I’ll never forget the influence a simple inspirational parable had in the formation of my views on the proper place of work in life. Having a personality that makes me prone to compulsive forms of work and productivity, even to the potential neglect of my family and ministry, this story helped steer me at an early stage in my career-path in a direction that kept me closer to home and church.
Written by a business author named Mark Albion, the parable of The Businessman and Fisherman makes the point that a person can inadvertently waste his life trying to create a future for himself and his family that he fails to realize he already has access to in the present.
A young businessman was at the pier of a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Seeing several large yellowfin tuna inside the small boat, the businessman complimented the fisherman on the quality of the fish and asked how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while”, the fisherman replied.
A little surprised, the young business man asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The content fisherman said, “This is enough to support my family’s immediate needs. I don’t need any more.” “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked the confused young man. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a walk with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my buddies; I have a full and busy life.”
The lad scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The fisherman asked, “How long will this all take?” to which the young man replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?” The business man laughed and said “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions, sir? Then what?”
“Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a walk with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your buddies.”
To be sure, my own objectives in life are a little different than the Mexican Fisherman. Achieving an early form of retirement in order to “sleep late,” “fish a little,” and “sip wine and play the guitar with my buddies” isn’t my personal aim. And yet, I totally agree with the premise that a sufficient use for one’s day job can be to provide “enough to support my family’s immediate needs” in order to be freed to accomplish more important things like “playing with my kids” and “taking a walk with my wife.” I would add “freedom to serve in local forms of ministry” to that list. I love how the Apostle Paul sets the example of taking on the vocation of tent-making in order that he might be better positioned to share the Gospel in his community (Acts 18:3-4).
None of this is to say that it’s necessarily wrong to want to expand a business or to climb to higher heights on the corporate ladder. Certainly there must be a place for those pursuits, but I think the end-goal for them should always be “God-honoring and others-serving” more than they are “self-honoring and self-serving.” We should never pursue greater wealth and influence for the sake of being wealthy and influential. Again, Paul sets a great example in this regard. Paul was no slacker. At one point he writes,
“For you yourselves know…we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day…” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8)
And though Paul worked tirelessly at his job of making and mending tents, he explains his work was never for the sake of the tents themselves (or for the greater tent industry) but for something infinitely greatly than that:
“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20)
The Mexican Fisherman worked enough hours to be able to do the things that were important to him. Paul did the same. By God’s grace, I want this to be my own approach to work and career, for the sake of my family and for the sake of the Lord.