Gospel Time

January 21, 2018/Mark 1:14-20


I didn’t notice him at first.  It had been a long night, out on the water.  Our catch was good, but that meant heavy work hauling the net up from the sea, emptying the catch onto the boat, and sorting the good fish from the scrap.  By the time we got back to the shore, I was dead on my feet – exhausted.  We hurried to get the fish to market, and then returned to the boat to work the nets.

Every time we drop them into the sea, some part gets ruined.  The stones we tie to the edges to weight the net down cut through the ropes and sink into the sea; large fish and trash tear gaping holes in the net.  All of that means that we don’t spend our time on shore relaxing and telling fish stories.  We work, preparing the nets for the next day’s catch, replacing the stone weights and patching up the holes so we can do it all over again the next night.

Long hours, endless hard work – sitting there in the boat that morning, repairing our nets, I was beyond exhausted.  So I didn’t notice him at first.

When he spoke, he didn’t say much.  Didn’t even start out with a friendly “hello,” or ask how we were doing, or even tell us his name.  Just a crisp, “Come after me.  I’ll teach you how to fish for people.”

I still don’t know why I followed him.  But at that moment, hearing his voice, looking into his eyes, all I wanted to do was throw the nets aside, strap on my sandals, and follow.

He didn’t tell us where we would go.  He didn’t tell us what we would do.  He didn’t promise us some great fortune, a get-rich-quick scheme to make a fast buck with little effort.  I had a friend who had left, years before, to follow one of the local rabbis.  But that was different.  First of all, the rabbi didn’t command him to follow along – he just decided to go.  And my friend kind of knew what he was getting into.  I mean, you follow a rabbi because you’re committed to him; you learn by watching how he lives, how he faces problems and the stuff of life.  This man walking along the seashore didn’t have a following, didn’t have a reputation as a teacher.  Why in the world did I drop my nets and take off after him?  I’m sure that’s what my wife will want to know.

But when he looked at me, I felt like he was seeing something about me that I didn’t even know myself.  I felt like he was gazing into my future, like he knew there were things for me to do and that he could teach me how to do them.  His words were simple, but they held so much power.  “Come after me.  I’ll teach you how to fish for people.”  He was not like other men, not an ordinary man – he was like, God.  It was like God had arrived on the scene, like God’s voice was speaking to me through this man.[1]  His words were like an invitation, but they also were a command.  I felt like I had no choice – he summoned, and I responded.  He didn’t call my dad or the hired hands we had working with us that day.  Just me and my brother.  He called us, in particular, and we both walked away from everything – our boat, our livelihoods, our father.

He upset my whole world, that morning.  I was just a simple fisherman, just an ordinary man working hard and taking care of my family.  Yes, it was a hard life.  I worked long hours, and sometimes for nothing, for no catch worth even hauling in.  Now, he says, I’ll fish for people.  That ought to be interesting.

I guess, in a way, that’s what he was doing when he called us – fishing for people.  We were his catch for the day.  He called, and we got caught up in his net.  Is that how we will fish, too?

All I know is, somehow this man’s words, his command to us that day, felt like the most important decision I would ever have to make.  More important than how I would put food on the table, more important than nets and boats and hired servants[2], was answering his call.  And now, fishing for fish seems like a real waste of time.

***

Mark’s words put us right there in the story.  We’re sitting on the shore with Simon and Andrew, James and John.  We’re tired from a night of fishing and a morning of repairing nets.  We’re tired of drudge work and routine and monotony.  We’re tired of doing the same thing day after day after day.  And then along comes this man Jesus.

“Jesus confronts us with a decision that lies deeper than earning a living.  His call to discipleship focuses on the question of [our] ultimate loyalty. … It speaks to [those of us] whose lives are humdrum, whose discipleship has degenerated into a preoccupation with things”[3] like committee meetings and Sunday school volunteers and youth group chaperones.  Jesus calls us and simply says, follow.  Those four sitting along the seashore that day heard him.  They really heard him.  His words – only his words.  And they followed.

We’ve heard the whole story.  We know who this Jesus is.  We know how the story ends – or rather, how it will end.  Repent and believe, he tells us.  Turn away from your old life.  “Turn in faith toward the new age that is dawning, in which God will reign as king.”[4]  Respond with your whole self; obey with your whole life.[5]

When we read the story of Jesus calling the first four disciples, we hear Jesus issuing that same call to us.  “If the cross is the basis for our salvation, following Jesus constitutes our life in the Kingdom of God.”[6]  Theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer reminds us that Mark’s words are for us just as Jesus’ words were for the four disciples:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not.  He speaks to us the same word: “Follow me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time.  He commands.  And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.[7]

Simon and Andrew, James and John heard Jesus’ call: “Follow me.”  They did not know who Jesus was, but they left their nets, their boats – their world – behind.  Immediately, Mark tells us; immediately, they followed him.  Jesus’ call to us may be much simpler.  We might respond to that call right here, right where we live and work.  Or perhaps he will call us to work that will require us to leave behind old ways of living and being.  When he calls, how will we answer?

[1] Joel Marcus, Anchor Bible Commentary: Mark 1-8, 185

[2] Lamar Williamson Jr., Interpretation: Mark, 47

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marcus, 175

[5] M. Eugene Boring, Mark, 51

[6] Williamson, 48

[7] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 40

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