Jesus received a lot of criticism from the religious authorities for not being discerning enough about the places He went and the people He associated with. Why did His inner circle include a tax collector and former demon-possessed woman?!
He spent so much time socializing with tax-gatherers and sinners that He even developed a reputation as a glutton and a drunk (Luke 7:34). But the Pharisees and Sadducees didn't understand that Jesus wasn't some morally impure person associating with lowlifes. He was Israel's Shepherd going after lost sheep.
And while the religious authorities remained hung up on maintaining the appearance of purity, Jesus had a mission in mind. Some critics might warn Jesus about the dangers of letting anyone into the kingdom without vetting people a little better. And the Parable of the Net is how Jesus would respond.
The Parable of the Net
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:47–50).
This parable is very similar to the Parable of the Weeds, where a farmer's enemy secretly plants weeds among his wheat crop. When the farmer’s servants realize what's happened, they bring it to their master's attention. The master tells them not to worry about it until the harvest. That's when it will be easiest to separate the valuable grain from the worthless weed. Any attempt to separate them too soon would mean throwing out the good with the bad.
In the Parable of the Net, fishermen scoop up fish with a dragnet. That process catches fish they can sell to vendors as well as fish that are no good. So when they finish fishing, they’ll have to sit down and sort the good from the bad. In the same way, Jesus says that the angels will sit down and sort the wicked from the righteous.
Interpreting the parable
Right now, the church is following the Lord's example in casting the net as widely as possible, inviting anyone who will listen into the kingdom. Now is not the time to decide who is in and who is out (not that any one of us has that ability anyway)—now is the time to issue invitations.
Will some people claim to follow Jesus when they don't? Of course. The kingdom is going to draw the insincere and even those with evil intent. But even those people have time to repent and choose to follow Jesus from a sincere heart. When all is said and done, the Lord will make the final judgments about people's eternal destiny.
If you want to learn more about Jesus's teachings, check out All the Parables of Jesus.