The headline might be: Four fishers leave everything to follow itinerant preacher.
The families and co-workers of Andrew and Simon, James and John were shocked today when these men dropped everything to follow the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Nets and fishing equipment were abandoned to the sea unused and unmended. Men employed by James and John were left wondering where their next pay check would come from. Their father, Zebedee is quoted as saying, “I’m not sure what to think. I’m angry. I feel betrayed. It’s not only the business. They were the main supporters of this family. I’m not sure what they saw in Jesus of Nazareth, that they could just abandon everything – abandon us – in this way!”
Indeed, what was it about Jesus that compelled them to follow? We know little about the man from Nazareth. There is speculation that he is a disciple of John the Baptist, recently taken into custody for spreading treasonous messages and inciting unrest. Certainly he is surrounded by rumors and mysterious events. He first came to public attention at a baptism of John’s followers about six weeks ago. According to witness reports, upon his own baptism, an unidentified voice was heard to say, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The voice coincided with the appearance of a white dove and some disturbances in the cloud-cover over head. Witnesses differ in their thoughts on whether this voice had some supernatural origin or that the events were merely happenstance.
More recently Jesus has been seen and heard around Galilee making proclamations about the “Kingdom of God” and insisting that all who hear him repent. It is unknown how much the four fishers had heard from or about Jesus when they left their vocations for the unknown. What is clear is that it only took a few words from him to provoke the sudden departure and that this new direction seems like a permanent one.
In the past, when I read this story, I have often focused on the response of the newly minted disciples and the fallout for the ones ‘left behind’ when they left it all behind to follow Jesus. With a little awe at their ability to go with Jesus when they knew so little of what was to come, and with a little question about how that must have felt to their families – was it anger? Maybe Zebedee was a ‘follow your bliss’ kind of dad.
What I haven’t really done was think about how God was acting in this story. There are so many stories of wonders performed by Jesus in the Gospels: multiplying bread, calming the storm, wine to water, healing and casting out demons, which we’ll hear more of in coming weeks. This story has never registered about the miracle stories; it has always been slotted firmly into calling stories. It is that, and yet, what happened on the beach is a miracle. God created faith where there was no faith, disciples were made from fishermen.
This story was meant to be – and often still is – an inspiration for people looking discerning calling. Jesus has only to say “The kingdom is fulfilled! Repent, believe in the good news, follow me,” and the four men, two and two, leave their boats and follow. The first readers would have heard this – as we do now – as ordinary men who were so compelled by Jesus’ invitation that they left what they were doing to be disciples. What the question is then, is “What is the message for those who have already found their vocation?” or alternatively, what if you can’t just drop everything?” Those of us who are pastors, for example – and I’m sure this is true for many of you – are pretty serious about spending time thinking about taking up that mantel, about how Christ is calling us into ministry and what that means. I think many people do what they do out of a sense that what they do is deeply rooted in their discipleship of Jesus – our Christ in culture series in adult study n part reflects that.
I think, though if we focus not on what the disciples did but on what God did in them, and on the fullness of Jesus’ invitation, then the story has a wider application. When Jesus says, “The kingdom is here, Repent, believe and follow,” Then the question is more broadly, How can I live into the good news that the Kingdom is here and what is God doing in me that I can let God do?
Where is the miracle of faith in our lives? After we are not all able to leave jobs, families behind, can’t all follow dramatically – but miracles of ‘repentance’ – the sense of turning toward newness – are possible everywhere and always in an on going way.
In my stab at making this story into new, I suggested that it only took one word from Jesus to make the disciples follow. But really, there is a history. And Jesus has several things to say in this passage. This story of the miracle on the beach is prefaces by Jesus’ proclamation (whether the disciples hear it or not, we hear it, which is what the Mark intended): “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent, believe and believe in the good news.” It is on the foundation of that proclamation that Jesus lays his call to Simon, Andrew, James and John.
As sometimes happens, The Message version of this Gospel interprets that prophecy in this way that helped me to read it just a little differently:
14-15After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
16-18Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.
19-20A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.
“Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
The time was up then and it’s up now: the kingdom is fulfilled. That is the kingdom message. That is the good news, not ‘Jesus died for our sins’ Jesus proclaimed the Good News and embodied it. Embodied the good news of a Kingdom of enemy love, a peaceable kingdom, an upside down kingdom. Jesus doesn’t say ‘believe in me. He says believe in the good news’ Believe it and live it with me! That good news is going to catch more than fish.
Jesus came to Galilee right after the arrest of John. Galilee was Jesus’ home turf – Nazareth was in Galilee. But it was also the heart of Herod’s territory – different Herod than the one that tried to have him killed as a baby, but still threatened and threatening. The Herod that had John arrested and that we learn later in the story of the baptizer has his head removed from his body and served up on a platter – not a nice guy. But Jesus didn’t try to elude or avoid the trouble that John has begun but located himself there and based his ministry at Capernaum in Galilee.
We are given many opportunities to step up and risk for the kingdom of justice. This past week while many of us were sliding down the tube run and cross-country skiing and sipping hot chocolate by the fire at Camp Camrec, did anyone remember that the reason we had a long weekend was in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr? I’m pretty sure I didn’t give it a thought while we were there. But this week I was reminded of his speech that called for an end to the war in Vietnam – “A Time to Break Silence”. If you haven’t read it I encourage you to do it. (here) He got a lot of criticism by civil rights activitists saying that the war had nothing to do with civil rights and that he should stay out of it. But he found that he couldn’t. He found that his calling to follow Christ into a life of discipleship for the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of peace was, in fact inextricably tied up with the quest for civil rights. He said, “some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”
Talk about living into the non-violent, all-loving fullness of God’s kingdom! He talks about his own calling to follow Jesus as the uniter of his dedication not only to civil rights but to a ministry of peace for all people. “Now,” he says, “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard?” That is a calling to repentance and risk. Believe that there is joy and fulfillment in the struggle.
What does repentance mean for us? We heard the story of Johan at Nineveh. For the Ninevites it was perhaps what we image repentance might be – turning from sin, sitting in mourning, sack-cloth and ashes and all that. For the disciples it meant leaving their nets and their families to learn more about the kingdom life – asking dumb question and making mistakes and healing and comforting and supporting along the way.
As I think about and am mindful of this time of inching into a new structure in our congregation, I wonder if this text may have something to offer us on our way as a congregation as it does as individuals seeking what it means to be called to a fullness of life in Christ. We are, after all, trying to find the best way to grow into the fullness of the Kingdom. In a recent meeting both of the Ad Hoc group and of the congregation, Carl offered an excerpt from another congregation’s structural outline document – on which has in some ways been a touch point for our process. In the context of reading this text, I especially heard this particular bit of that document.
Each group is enabled when it has:
a. Clear expectations
b. Authority to act
c. Freedom to take risks and learn from mistakes we might make
d. Encouragement and affirmation
e. Accountability for fruits of ministry
It was point c which I think strikes at the heart of this passage and what God has done in the disciples. They realized their freedom to follow. What does a corporate repentance look like – and I mean a turning around to newness of life. I mean turning to face Christ more fully. What would it mean to leave it immediately? Can we be transformed?
Time’s up, Jesus says, in the Message. But the time is always up in Mark. Immediately, immediately, immediately…it’s every other word. The pace is driving – it is short and hurried and it is always about time. We are no different, and yet in every moment – the kingdom is now! No time for procrastination or deliberation or even discernment – this is not a discerning time!! Now is the time.
Now is the time…and now…and now. Both personally and as a body – answering the call and waking up to the message ‘time’s up’ is about imitating Christ. Whether that is means following in a literal way, as the fishermen did, or living into out own vocations (and I don’t mean jobs- because sometimes one just has to do a job not because one is called to it but because one has to) in a way that reflects Christ’s call to repent, believe in the good news and follow.
May God bless us on our way.