3 Epiphany – January 24, 2021
Our gospel reading begins a bit ominously, with John arrested and Jesus arriving in what was considered the backwaters of Capernaum in Galilee – Gentile territory. This means that Jesus, who is beginning his ministry, does not go to some holy place, to some religious center. Instead, he withdraws to Galilee, heathen Galilee, Galilee of the Gentiles, a place where, according to Jewish belief, pure faith has been distorted.
So at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he does not go to some perfect place in search of disciples. He goes instead to a questionable place; one whose wounds cry out for immediate attention. And you know what?….Jesus still comes to us in those places today, here and now. Many of us are living in a deeply wounded space and place today, now. We are persons broken, families, neighbors, and a nation divided, a global community in crisis. In our woundedness, Jesus still comes to us.
We often view this gospel story today as a “hey, you, yes I’m talking to you” story – which it is. But it’s more than that. This is also a story about time. The Greek word for time in Jesus statement “the time is fulfilled” is Kairos. Kairos signifies an opportune time and decisive moment because God is about to act.
When Jesus first summoned Simon, Andrew, James, and John (and maybe also when he called Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and others), they weren’t encountering a charismatic stranger for the first time. It’s not that Jesus suddenly broke into their lives announcing that their number had come up. They were hearing a familiar preacher and perhaps even a friend telling them that the time for a new direction or a new intensity had arrived. Jesus was ready and now—and now they needed to be, too.
Galilee was (and still is) not an especially large region. People knew each other, traveled around, and talked. If Jesus had any public celebrity or notoriety in that area, people would have heard of it. But something was different about Jesus that day.
He believed “the time is fulfilled”; the opportunity was ripe. The Holy Spirit possessed him. He had heard God’s calling and affirmation. And Herod Antipas had taken the brazen step of arresting John the Baptizer. Enough was enough.
In short, Jesus himself had come to believe what he told the people who became his first followers: It’s time. Time to move from preparation to action. Time to stop hoping for change and start laboring for change. Time to enlist help in a ministry that was about proclaiming repentance, urging people to adopt a new outlook on their world and their place in it.
Remember that the sea during biblical times, represented the primordial chaos. The chaos from which God created. So, let’s think about this….perhaps the purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising us a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. But 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.
In the case of these four fishermen, Jesus uses the metaphor of fishing for people. It was specific to these men because, as Debi Thomas states so well….What metaphor would make more sense to four fishermen than the metaphor of fishing for people? Simon and Andrew understand the nuances of that metaphor in ways we never will. James and John know from years of hard won experience what depths of patience, resilience, intuition, and artistry professional fishing require.
These men know the tools of the trade, the limitations of their bodies, and the life-and-death importance of timing, humility, attentiveness, and discretion. Most of all, they know the water. They know how to respect it, how to listen to it, and how to bring forth its best for the good of all. They understand and respect the reciprocity at the heart of their enterprise. They know not to take more than they need. They know to care for the life cycles of the fish. They know to pay attention to the health and sustainability of the marine environment that nourishes them and their families.
In other words, when Jesus calls these tried-and-true fishermen to follow him, they understand the call not as a directive to abandon their intelligence, intuition, and experience, but to bring the best of those gifts forward for the sake of a more beautiful and peaceable world — a world where all are nourished. The call is to become even more fully and freely themselves for the sake of God’s kingdom. As so wonderfully put by Amanda Gorman, the young poet at the inauguration, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it”.
Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you…” This is a promise to cultivate, not to sever. It’s a promise rooted in gentleness and respect — not violence and coercion. It’s a promise that when we dare to let go, the things we relinquish might be returned to us anew, enlivened in ways we couldn’t have imagined on our own.
Most importantly, it is a promise from God to us — not from us to God. As Barbara Brown Taylor so aptly puts it, Mark 1:14–20 is a miracle story. Jesus calls, and the four fishermen “immediately” follow. No hesitation, no questions asked. Is this because they’re men of superhuman courage or prophetic foreknowledge? Of course not. These are the same guys who later in the Gospel doubt, deny, and abandon Jesus. They’re as fallible and as ordinary as the rest of us, and their own volition can’t get them very far. No, they immediately follow Jesus because Jesus makes it possible for them to do so. “This is not a story about us,” Taylor writes. “It is a story about God, and about God’s ability not only to call us but also to create us as people who are able to follow — able to follow because we cannot take our eyes off the one who calls us, because he interests us more than anything else in our lives, because he seems to know what we hunger for and because he seems to be food.”
As Jesus speaks to James and John, Peter and Andrew, so too does Jesus speak to us: through our circumstances, not in spite of them. Christ calls his disciples as they are. They do nothing to deserve his invitation. In today’s Gospel, we hear no account of the merits of these four, we hear only of his call. And Jesus still calls us today, here and now.
Follow me Jesus says to Simon—whom he will name Peter, the Rock, infused with God’s own being. Follow me he says to Andrew, to James and to John. Follow me Jesus says to us. Follow me Jesus says to us right here, right now, in our own Galilee, in our own questionable space and place of woundedness. What will we say in return?