A reflection on Mark 1:14-20 for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 24, 2021
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Mark 1:14-20 (NRSVA)
Faithfulness does not guarantee a smooth path. John is inside a cell. Too much truth for some.
Yet the mission continues.
The description of Jesus’ ‘good news’ message strongly echoes John’s: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As yet, Mark – so far – has offed very little content to this ‘kingdom of God’. Perhaps we only know that it is close, requires a repentant turning, and a response of trust.
To be sure, Jesus’ kingdom message will be fleshed out as Mark’s account unfolds. Each healing, parable, and miracle will contribute to the reader’s understanding. So far, however, the reader is left wondering – eager discover what it all might look like.
Mark’s first content-giving story is the calling of four Galilean fishermen.
Fishing boats were unlikely sources of promising rabbinic students. By the time a young man was working the family business – whatever that as – the local religious teachers had already selected the most promising. Only some received their invitation: ‘follow me’. Those who were not invited went, well, fishing.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John have already proven themselves to be below par.
The kingdom Jesus represents is, however, uncommonly gracious. On Galilee’s beach these four men are unexpectedly – unimaginably – given a second chance.
And each grasps it with both hands.
Mark’s description of their response: Simon and Andrew ‘…immediately they left their nets and followed him’, James and John ‘…left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.’
None will let such an opportunity fly away.
The other aspect I love about his story is Jesus description of the kingdom’s call: ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ It acknowledges their work. Adapts to their gifts. Speaks their language. It builds not on ungrounded, distant ideas, but on familiar things.
So what can we derive from this story about Jesus’ ‘kingdom of God’? Perhaps that it is characterised by grace; offers a second chance; connects with the common; asks for our trust-filled embrace of another way.
It is an early glimpse of Jesus proclamation: ‘the good news’.
It leaves me pondering my all time favourite question: What if the universe-creating God is like this Jesus?
What are the images you think of first when you consider the ‘Kingdom of God’?
When does God’s grace surprise you most?
What ‘language’ would you most readily hear the message of the kingdom in? What gifts might God use as a metaphor to call you?