Jesus wanted to make a great catch. He wanted to catch both Gentile and Jew. Where does he turn for help? Fishermen, of course. He chooses those who know their trade, who know both how to cast and mend their nets (Mt 4:18,21). But wanting to make a big catch, he needs a big crew. In gathering his disciples, he subsumes some smaller operations.
At first glance, it appears the disciples left their nets to become nets themselves. We can think of Jesus casting them into the world, giving them “authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness,” and instructing them to “make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 10:1,7). Tossing them into the waters of the world, he then hauls them in, and with them, a great catch of men. Here Jesus is the fisherman; the disciples are the nets. But this is not how Jesus phrases things.
When Jesus first speaks to the disciples he says “come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). He is very clear that they are to remain fishermen, just with very different game. If they were each their own net, some would say “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas” (1Cor 1:12). Such divisions are far from what Jesus has in mind. Instead of becoming nets, he wants his disciples to remain fishermen. But they all share one net. Jesus is the net.
With his arms spread wide and anchored to a cross, Jesus is a dragnet. His disciples cast him into the seas of the world. In the Acts of the Apostles we see them draw forth catch after catch, numbering in the thousands (Acts 2:41; 4:4). Perhaps this is what Paul means when he says “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1Cor 1:17). Paul certainly did baptize. But he stresses that his first mission is to proclaim the Christ, to make him known, to cast the net, from which baptism naturally follows.
Jesus not only called men who were casting their nets, but men who were mending them as well. For the Gospel to remain effective, it must be kept free from distortions. A torn net is worthless. It must be mended and protected. It needs custodians. When Jesus, the net, entrusts himself to the Apostles, he not only gives them the authority to do the casting, they also do the mending. They, and their successors, care for this net of salvation, ensuring and guarding the integrity of the weave designed to gather the nations.