The crux of our lesson this Sunday comes down to verse 15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
What kind of news would make these fishermen leave the security of their nets and their families to follow Jesus?
Mark doesn’t give us many details – he cuts right to the chase. Perhaps the author didn’t feel like he needed to give much extra detail. Perhaps the first readers, his early Christian community, knew the full story so his writing only served to remind them of Jesus’ main purpose.
What’s important to remember is that these first century Jews lived under the occupation of a foreign nation (Rome) that was aided by local leaders (Herod’s court, priests, tax collectors) who looked to personally benefit through helping insure foreign control. The average Jew in Palestine during Jesus’ day only had the stories of how God was present to their ancestors. How God delivered them from oppression to give them a unique identity and their own homeland. These stories told of a faithful God who worked through judges, priests and later Kings who, at least for a time, followed God’s will for the nation. But since the Babylonian exile, things had never been the same. Although a community united by this old religious story, they had only the hope that one day God would again deliver them so that they, following God, could order their community’s religious or social lives. They had no control or say-so. They were living under a repressive kingdom.
Enter Jesus. Who is he? Do others know who he is? Or he is a random guy walking down the beach when he calls his first disciples? Again, Mark doesn’t let modern readers know. Matthew and Luke give more detail (Luke 4, Matthew 4). Since this scene takes place in Galilee, Jesus’ home region, we can look at stories found in those two gospels. Stories of Jesus, after he is baptized and tempted, teaching in the synagogue and making a name for himself – both for good and bad. He is beginning to make the claim that he is God’s messiah. That God’s kingdom and God’s reign are being made possible through him. So, it is possible then that when Jesus calls these fishermen, he is not a stranger or nobody. Rather, he is recognized as the guy carrying a message of hope that is totally different than the message of the Roman empire and those Jewish folks who gained power and profit through the Roman system. Its an exciting, hopeful and dangerous message!
Jesus wasn’t the only Rabbi or teacher of his day. Jesus was following a long line of teachers who devoted their life to the study of the Hebrew Bible. They apprenticed under a Rabbi until they were seen fit to go out on their own and call their own apprentices or disciples. In this Nooma video trailer, Rob Bell describes how a Rabbi would call his disciples and how this may have been a familiar call that these fishermen would have recognized. It is well worth your time to view and may be worth your class’s time, too. Just be sure to provide enough time for class discussion.
For those who cannot watch the video or share it, a Rabbi would identify and call a disciple after a young boy had proven his worth by memorizing much, if not all of the Torah and prophets. Memorizing it! These were the brightest and best in the village. All the rest went on to learn a trade. Today, it would be like being awarded a full scholarship to an Ivy League school or winning an athletic scholarship to play football at Alabama. So, in this context, when we look at Jesus’ call of these fishermen, we see that they were not the top students. They had moved on to learn a trade and they were practicing it. But Jesus still calls them to be a disciple. Wow! What worth that must have communicated to them. You are worthy to be my disciple. Come, follow me! But, what would they give up? As they would begin to learn, it would be more than simply the fishing business.
What did they gain? Well, that’s what we continue to learn. Walking as Christ’s disciples means that often we are walking into the headwinds of society. We aren’t doing the “popular” things. Put in a more nuanced way, Jesus’ disciples are rejecting the things that could get us ahead in this “order” because in doing so maybe we are supporting systems that are anti God’s kingdom. These systems put wealth, power, popularity on the throne. Or simply our own control. Living under God’s reign means we have to take steps of faith even though we can’t see the outcome. We simply respond because God’s call is so affirming to who God has created us to be. It is hopeful and life giving to all of creation. And so we set out. And, like these disciples, we are eager to bring God’s kingdom to bear, but so often we miss it. We mistakenly try to do it on our own, not in the way God wills it be done. (Think of Peter, one moment he recognizes Jesus as the messiah and the next minute he is telling Jesus how to implement God’s reign.)
Being disciples of Jesus is a lifelong process of learning – of becoming self-aware or become Christ-aware in every area of our life. We often will not get it right. But in the moments and places we do, God’s reign is becoming more a reality here and now instead of simply in the future. And we are created to do more than wait around for the future kingdom. May we embrace the work of God’s reign in the here and now!
- How do we see ourselves in these fishermen, being called to follow Jesus, the rabbi?
- What kind of news would make us change our lives (repent) and even give up the things we can see and control for the hope / promise of living under the reign of God?
- What around us will cause us to stumble on our journey to follow Jesus?
- We know the gospel story and the journey of these disciples. They do stumble along the way. They even desert Jesus in his most difficult hours, denying they know him. Yet, in the gospel of John, he joins them again on the beach. They are fishing again, without any luck. He helps them find the fish and then feeds them. Their rejection doesn’t lead to Jesus rejecting them. Once more, he simply shows them how to fish.
When we fail Jesus, his Spirit remains with us, to feed us and again show us how to fish.