In Mark’s description of the calling of the first disciples there is a forewarning: to ‘repent and believe in the gospel’ is costly and requires lifetime commitment. The element of metanoia, the Greek word for repent, was preached by both John the Baptiser and Jesus.
Today’s Gospel scripture is Mark 1:12-20
Read these verses slowly in a contemplative way to allow scripture to speak again in your life.
Imagine yourself in first century Palestine.
Imagine the wild animals and the ministering angels.
In your mind contrast the dry and dusty wilderness with the Sea of Galilee.
Verse 14 opens with the phrase ‘Now after John was arrested’.
Compare the freedom of Jesus against the captivity of John, both of whom were preaching repentance and belief in the gospel.
Imagine Jesus’ baptism in the Jordon, the Spirit driving him into the wilderness, and Jesus’ subsequent deliverance from temptations.
Why would the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness?
Why does Satan tempt Jesus?
Consider the presence of God in the wild animals & the ministering angels.
Compare and contrast the Exodus account of deliverance from slavery, wilderness wandering and arrival in the promised land alongside the experience of Jesus. Jesus declares the fulfilment of Kairos time, and that the Kingdom of God is here.
This is the first half of today’s reading and already we have a passage packed with contrasting imagery and events reminiscent of the Old Testament. Repentance, Metanoia, repeated by John and Jesus, is critical to the kingdom of God and the gospel. Jesus has repented, been baptised by the Holy Spirit, and claimed by God. He has been driven into the ‘learning grounds’ of the wilderness school; he has overcome the temptations of Satan, and been ministered to by heavenly angels and attended by wild animals of creation. Jesus proclaims the kairos time and kingdom of God, even though paradoxically the adverse consequences of proclaiming the gospel is evident in verse 1:14: the arrest of John the Baptiser.
It is in this background that Jesus calls his first disciples.
In a gospel contemplative attitude, we return to scripture & read from Mark 1:14-20
As Jesus passes alongside the sea of Galilee
Feel the sea spray and the saltiness of the air as you accompany Jesus.
Imagine the activity on the shore as fish nets are being stored for the day.
In your mind’s eye think about
How strong the men have to be to accomplish their tasks day after day
The graceful practiced rhythm of throwing the seine nets into the sea.
The roughness of the fishermans hands, their weathered skin, the scars from a physically demanding job.
Jesus sees Simon and Andrew, then James and John, and calls them to “Follow me, and I will make you to become fishers of men”. Immediately they leave what they are doing and follow Jesus. The brothers make following Jesus seem so easy. Yet leaving behind family, work, and their home is leaving behind the very markers of a person’s identity. Simon and Andrew were fishermen, they were Galilean. James and John were Zebedee’s sons, they were net menders, and Galileans. When Jesus says “Follow Me”, he is not asking his disciples to change their career; to exchange ‘fishing for fish’ for ‘fishing for people’. If we have learned anything from the preceding passages, the call to follow Jesus involves contrasts. Discipleship is to leave behind the source of previous identity, and in Metanoia, to engage in the contrasts of change, leaving behind everything they know for an identity which can only be found in Jesus, (at the Kairos time of fulfilment, in the Kingdom of God).
Professor Osvaldo Vena of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary says it well as he engages this passage:
“The purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”
Changing the world involves an individual’s repentance, an identity change, and a lifelong covenant with God. It also involves moving from an individual commitment to a communal one. For Simon, Andrew, James and John, the craft of seine-net throwing is replaced with the craft of preaching the gospel. They develop a relationship with God, and with each other. They learn the principles of the Kingdom of God, and they will become known as Children of the Most High.
Since the time of John Calvin, it has been well accepted that the call Jesus makes to his first disciples is the universal call to all people, in all generations. In response, the question we ask ourselves today is the difficult question of identity. In following Jesus, have we undergone the dramatic change of leaving our old lives behind in order to become our new identity in Jesus? Have we been changed so completely that we find ourselves living the abundant life available in Jesus, established by God’s reign on earth?
Perhaps the question “What is our identity?” would have been easier to answer a year ago. In pre-Covid times the activities of the church could have easily been our identity markers. For example, we often identify ourselves as the purpose we fulfil:
I am the preacher of the gospel…
I am the Organist/ Worship leader/ singer/ songwriter…
I am the Communion Steward
I am the Society Steward/ treasurer/ property steward.
I am the one who sits in the front/ back row.
These are some of the answers we give, and in some ways we find reassurance in our work in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus is calling us to a repentance which changes us from the inside out, our Christ-like identity urging us into action, not our actions identifying who we are. It is the difference between Jesus saying : “I will teach you to fish for people” (I will teach you a skilled activity) as opposed to “I will make you to become fishers of people” (I will create in you a new identity).
Just as well our identity hinges on who Jesus is & not on our function in the church.
During national lockdown the church buildings and our communal worship had been suspended for the better part of 2020. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the lockdown lifting on church gatherings and communal worship for the beginning (or middle) of 2021. It is important to remember in these enforced changes to our Sunday rituals and traditions, we are still disciples of Jesus, and citizens of the kingdom of God.
Or maybe it feels like our status as disciples has changed?
Does our inactivity and changes to church ritual feel like we have abandoned God? do we feel we have denied who we are in Christ?
Perhaps our identity can best be described in relational terms to God;
I am a child of God
I am loved by God,
I am adopted into the family Of God
I am co-inheritor with Christ
These are but a few descriptors which do not rely on our own activity and effort, but on who Jesus is. .
In this passage we are reminded that Jesus is calling each of us to follow so that he can create in us a new identity.
It will not be an easy journey, leaving the old to adopt the new.
It will involve leaving everything we understand, & ask us to trust God in the process.
The path will not be easy.
The wilderness presents temptations & difficulties, but also has the presence of God.
When disciples graduate from the wilderness school, the commitment to the Kingdom of God could well lead to arrest, prison, and death, an uncomfortable truth we learn from the experience of John the Baptiser.
“Follow Me” says Jesus.
And knowing the risks, Disciples immediately follow, covenanting with God through Jesus. May we be prepared for a lifetime of discipleship, surrendering ourselves to Follow Jesus.