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Lectionary Gospel Text for Jan 25, 2015: Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,  15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The hand-off is made: with John’s arrest the ministry of Jesus begins in earnest.

In his Gospel, Mark often gives very short summaries of the ministry of Jesus and here he summarizes the preaching of Jesus in short snippets:

The time is fulfilled!

The kingdom of God is near!

Repent!

Believe in the Good News!

By this point in the story, Mark has made it clear that the story of Jesus belongs to a much older story. He has cited a few OT passages to root Jesus in that much older story. In the final two verses of Mark’s introduction (vv. 14 and 15 above), Jesus announces an climax in that old story. The Time is Now! The old story has come a turning point, something new, yet old, is at hand. The long awaited arrival of God’s kingdom is here in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, as Mark shows us later, only those with ears to hear and eyes to see will perceive the coming kingdom.

Most who heard this talk of the Kingdom of God would hear Jesus calling for revolt against the Romans and new period of prosperity for the Jewish nation, like under the Maccabees or, better yet, like under Solomon. In short, for  contemporary ears, announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God was nothing short of announcing the rise of a renewed independent and sovereign nation of Israel. However…

As the Gospel of Mark will play out, Jesus is up to a very different kind of revolution. This kind begins with the stinging call to “repent!” Normally we think of “believing” as coming before repenting, but I think Mark has his order right. One must repent before one can deeply believe the Gospel. When we remember that “believe” in the the NT is better translated “trust” sometimes, this order, repent first, and trust second, makes great sense. One must turn, or at least want to turn, before one can see or hear the Good News.

Mark next tells us the story about how Jesus called his first disciples. In a way, the story illustrates the type of response Jesus sought in announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God with its attendant call to repent and believe.

Whatever prior history Jesus had with these fishermen, Mark decided not to tell us that information. The impression made is that Jesus walks by, calls them to follow him, and they do … immediately! And this seems to be the perception  Mark is evoking. The call to discipleship is decisive, immediate, and costly.

The answer to the call requires a full body type of response to Jesus. One is either for him or against him, as Jesus will say in another place. But the call is not for the sake of self-improvement, self-aggrandizement, or self-promotion. Instead the call is to be of service to others. In the story of the call of the fishermen, fishers of fish become fishers of people. Disciples become conduits through which others become disciples.

But to become a disciple of Jesus is costly. It means leaving things behind–always–or it is not following Jesus. Simon and Andrew were casting a net into the sea when Jesus came upon them. They leave the net!

The other brothers, James and John, were mending their nets when Jesus came upon them. They leave their net-mending where they are. Yet they leave much more, they leave their father and his fishing business. In leaving, the disciples embody what Jesus will explain later:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34–37 NRSV)

So for us who resist leaving things behind for the sake of the Kingdom of God,  hear again the call of the Gospel

The time is fulfilled!

The kingdom of God is near!

Repent!

Believe in the Good News!

Follow me!

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