January 26, 2003
As you already know, the gospel of Mark is an intriguing gospel to me.† Itís bare bones, to the point, and often times mysterious.† Whenever we read it, it is easy for us to interject the other gospels into Markís gospel to help us make sense of what Mark is trying to say, maybe even just to add some color and fluff to what many of us might think is a bland and dull gospel.† But the beauty of Markís gospel comes not from just what is found in the gospel, but also from what is missing from the gospel, which in turn leads us to see whatís in the gospel in new ways.† The color and the fluff we want to add really in the end only clouds our vision and hearing of what Mark has to say.†
This story of Jesusí calling his first four disciples to follow him is a story we have known from our childhood.† This story is one of the most prominent call stories in the Bible, and we have certainly used this story to teach children and adults about what it means to be called as a disciple of Jesus.† Yet, I have to tell you that this story as told by Mark invites more questions than answers, questions that I believe teach us far more about Jesus and faith than what we may have learned from this text in the past.†
Today's scripture begins by marking the transition from John's ministry to Jesusí ministry.† Mark uses only a few words to tell us that "after John was arrested, Jesus cameÖ"† The door has closed on John the Baptist and has reopened on Jesus.† At first glace, Jesus' mission doesnít appear all that different from John the Baptist's. He, too, emphasizes the word "repent," but Jesus gives a different reason altogether.
John said to repent as a way of preparing for the Messiah. Jesus says to repent for the Kingdom of God has come near. The waiting is over. God has begun a new movement in the world. Godís time is being fulfilled.† Jesus is the one more powerful than John, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, the one who is the Son of God.† Jesus, himself, comes as both the proclaimer of Godís kingdom, and the one who is proclaimed through the witness of the gospel.†
With this quick introduction to Jesusí ministry, we get to the meat of our scripture reading, where Mark tells us two brief call stories, one of Simon and Andrew, and the other of James and John.† Markís telling of these two stories is brief and to the point.† Jesus calls these men to follow him, and they go.† Jesus calls, the men follow, period.† Nothing more is said.† So does this mean we can all pack up our stuff and go home?† Does this mean the sermon is over?† Well, no Iím afraid not, because I have some questions that Mark seems to leave unanswered.
††††††††† Why this foursome?† We are given no background information on Simon, Andrew, James or John other than that they were fishermen in a family business that seemed to be doing okay if they had hired hands.† But nothing is said about any motivation of why Jesus called these particular men, nothing is said about whether or not Simon, Andrew, James and John had been to hear Jesus preach, or whether they had been primed to make this life changing decision. Nothing is said about whether or not Jesus had talked to these men before to screen them for such important positions. We are only told that Jesus saw them and called out to them, "Follow me." And they responded.† And this leads us to an even more important question Ė what leads them to respond to him so quickly without hesitation?†
This is really what gets me perplexed about this whole story.† Why do the fishermen ďimmediatelyĒ leave their business and follow Jesus?† Why would four men make such a radical and immediate decision to follow Jesus without first considering the pros and cons of such a venture.† Why would these four men leave their daily work, drop their nets, abandon their established livelihoods and leave their families to go with someone they had never met?†
We might suppose that the disciples understood the call of Jesus as an invitation to be part of something much bigger than what they were experiencing as fishermen.† Kind of like a promotion to a bigger and better job, a step to take to bigger and better things.† Yet, our text tells us nothing of the motivation behind the response of these four men, and nothing about any rewards they received for their discipleship.† What we know from later in Markís gospel is that the only thing the disciples are promised is persecution and conflict.
Perhaps the disciples immediately realized that fishing for people would be much more spiritually satisfying than simply fishing for fish.† All of us wonder, at some point of time in our life, where our place is in this world, whether or not what we are doing actually matters in the grand scheme of things.† All of us, at some point of time in our life, struggle with wondering whether we are just existing in some worldly occupation, or truly living a spirit-filled life in Godís call for us, whether or not we are in the world, and truly living in a life not of the world.† But, yet again, our text remains silent.† Nothing is given to indicate that these four men even contemplated or wondered about such things.† Nothing in the text even offers a hint at the menís spirituality or even if they were spiritual people at all.†
Perhaps the disciples responded to Jesusí call out of some great internal faith.† After all, isnít that what we are taught about this story, that the four men responded out of their own faith, just like we are to respond to Jesus out of our own faith.† It certainly does take great faith to just walk away from our current lives, drop everything we have, leave our family, and follow someone we donít even know.†
Of course, we understand this as a great act of faith, but our text isnít so clear.† Nothing in our text says that they were great men of faith, or that they even understood what faith was all about.† Nothing is said about them believing in Jesus or understanding Jesusí ministry and mission.† In fact, the disciples throughout this gospel, continually misunderstand Jesus, continually miss the point of his teachings, continually fail to see who Jesus is, and in the end of the gospel they will disappear completely when Jesus is crucified.† Whatever faith, belief, or understanding they may have had here, it doesnít take long for them to forget.
In any event, these four men decided to make a radical and immediate decision to follow Jesus, a decision that would change their lives forever.† We cannot help but be amazed and impressed with the immediate and radical commitment that Jesus inspired in these fishermen.† Somehow they were compelled to follow Jesus, a man they didnít even know, somehow they are able to respond to Jesusí call and take that first step on the road of discipleship, on a journey that will confuse them and bewilder them, on a journey that will lead them to a destination that for them is not yet known and not yet defined.†
Maybe in the end, these four men, who were once fishermen but now called disciples, did act in faith, but not in a faith that understands, not in a faith that weighs the pros and cons or seeks rewards, not in a faith that comes from a spirituality within, but in a faith that is not of their own, a faith that comes from the outside that enables them to respond to a call that for now remains unclear, unsure, scary, and overwhelming.† Maybe in the end, that is how the journey of faith must begin for us, with this first step of Jesusí call and our response.†
In the waters of baptism, not only are we identified and adopted as Godís very own, not only are we sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, not only are we marked for service, but then we are also called to take that first step in response, the first step that comes from an external faith not of ourselves.† The first step that starts us off on the path of righteousness that is not always clear, not always sure, sometimes scary, and often times overwhelming, a path that doesnít always answer all of our questions, and is not always safe, but it is a path that we do not walk alone, for the one who leads us is the one who is even now proclaiming the kingdom of God, is the one who has already called us with authority, is the one who has promised to make us be fishers for people.† In the end, after hearing Jesusí call, the disciples did the only thing they could do, the only thing we need to do Ė ďand immediately they left their nets and followed him.Ē†† Amen.