Followers | 3rd after Epiphany

Mark 1:14-20

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers. (CEB)

Followers

The words that mark an end to John the Baptist’s ministry and the beginning of the ministry of Jesus foreshadow what’s to come later in Mark’s Gospel. The words aren’t flowery, congratulatory, or even joyful. They give us pause. They’re ominous. “After John was arrested.” Jesus’ ministry began after John was arrested.

The next words should make us scrunch our eyebrows and leave us wondering if we heard them correctly. “Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news.” Jesus began his ministry in Galilee? It wasn’t really a center of anything. Aside from the Roman cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias, The Galilee was mostly small villages like Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. The area wasn’t a seat religious or a political power.

In fact, Jesus mostly ignored the places of power and authority in Judea. We have no record of him ever stepping foot in Sepphoris, though it was only a few miles north of Nazareth. Sepphoris was known as the ornament of the Galielee and served as Herod Antipas’s capital until he built the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee around A.D. 20. There’s no record of him setting foot in Tiberias either. Instead, Jesus preached his message of God’s good news throughout those small towns and villages. Sometimes, he preached the good news along the way as he travelled from place to place.

Jesus’ message wasn’t about religious or political power. Jesus came to preach God’s good news. The prophet Isaiah described it this way: “The LORD God’s spirit is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement” (Isaiah 61:1-3 CEB).

So Jesus preached to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and prisoners of empire, the mourners. If Jerusalem, where Jesus was rejected, was a portrait of religious authority and Roman political power, The Galilee region was a portrait of God’s kingdom. Jesus chose Capernaum as his home base. The only big thing it had going for it was that it sat at the crossing of a Roman road and smaller local roads. But a lot of towns did, too. There wasn’t anything particularly special about Capernaum or Galilee.

Then, we get to Jesus message, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15 CEB). Other translations render Jesus’ words as, “The time is fulfilled” (NRSV, RSV, KJV), which makes it sound like something has been accomplished, finished, completed, and done. But the story is just beginning. It’s not that history and circumstances were awaiting some kind of ripeness before Jesus could show up on the scene. It’s more the idea that the coming of Jesus brings the fullness of time with him. Time, itself, has come to a fullness of its meaning.

The entry of Jesus into the world brings a new era, a new age, a new time and reality. We’re living in a time-between-the-times, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will inaugurate a new time in which God’s kingdom reigns, and the values of that kingdom are lived.

What does Jesus mean by saying, “here comes God’s kingdom”? There’s some leeway on the meaning of the Greek word ἤγγικεν (engiken). It can mean has come near or has arrived. There’s obviously some difference between the two. When I turn onto Lincoln Avenue in Evansville, it might mean I’ve come near to my Grandmother’s house, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve arrived. So, which nuance of ἤγγικεν (engiken) is meant here?

Oddly enough, both are true. Jesus made God’s kingdom present from the moment the Word became flesh at the incarnation. The kingdom of God has come near. It is here, now, as a present reality. The whole world is invited to live in that kingdom as followers of Jesus.

At the same time, the fullness of that kingdom is a future reality. It’s near, it’s here, but it’s not all the way here yet. It’s now, and not yet. The fullness of God’s kingdom will come with the return of Christ. It’s a reality the disciples were told to pray about, and it’s something we pray about every time we say, “Your kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. The kingdom has come in Jesus Christ, but we’re still awaiting the final fulfillment of that kingdom.

Then, we’re told to repent and believe in God’s good news. That word, repent, is another one of those church words that we hear a lot, but sometimes our minds just gloss over the meaning. The Greek word means to change your mind or to change your purpose. But it’s not just a head thing, it includes a nuance of the heart. When we change our mind or our purpose, we have to come to grips with the fact that we might have been wrong beforehand. We might even feel bad, a little or a lot remorseful, about how we acted before we changed our mind or purpose.

On Thursday, I talked on the phone with a friend of mine who had a change of mind and heart over the past year. He’s a great guy. Every time we hang out, we’re laughing, and I mean borderline hysterics. He’s quick with a joke, and his sense of humor is sometimes so deadpan that it takes the rest of us a second to catch on. Then, we’re just in stitches. He’s also a person who had given up on God, the church, and Christians. When we talked on the phone, he told me that he’d been doing drugs and he drank too much. But, he realized that, because of these things, he wasn’t being a good husband or father. His marriage is rocky. He realized he couldn’t keep doing this stuff. So, he changed his mind and his purpose. He’s trying to get better. He’s doing rehab. He’s trying to be the husband and father he knows he should be.

That’s repentance. When you realize something’s not right, you change your mind, you change your heart, and you work your butt off at living life in a new direction.

The fact that God’s kingdom has come has consequences in the lives of those who receive and believe in the good news Jesus proclaims. We’re called to change our hearts and lives, and to trust in God’s good news. If we want to understand what the values of God’s kingdom look like, we look to Jesus. He loved those whom the religious authorities and other people rejected. He told the supposedly righteous religious authorities that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering the kingdom of God ahead of them. He loved and accepted everyone, and encouraged people to change their minds, their hearts, and live in a new direction.

If or when we mess up and turn back in a moment of weakness or despair, that invitation to repent—to change our mind, our purpose, our heart—is always there. Repenting and believing, believing and repenting: these are ongoing aspects of every Christian’s life. It’s exactly what played out in the lives of the disciples. In our text, we see four of them make immediate decisions to follow Jesus, but we also know that they lived the rest of their lives making mistakes and repenting of those mistakes. To believe and repent takes both faith and courage.

When Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and Andrew, and offered them an invitation, “Come follow me, and I’ll teach you how to fish for people” (Mark 1:17 CEB). The difficulty with translating this verse from Greek into English is that one way gives us a task, while another way gives us an identity. If Jesus teaches us how to fish for people, that’s a task. Tasks are important. Tasks get things done. But the problem with tasks is that they have a beginning and an end. When we’re done with the task of fishing, we can move on to other tasks.

But a better translation takes into account the Greek verb that means to be or become. Jesus tells Simon and Andrew, “Come follow me, and I’ll prepare you to become fishers for people” (my translation). If Jesus prepares us to become fishers, that’s an identity. That promises a lifetime of fishing. One of my buddies in Churubusco, Indiana is a fisher. Fishers are always fishing. Every time my friend has the chance to be on the water fishing, he’s going to be on the water fishing.

Now, the difference between fishing and becoming fishers might not seem like a big deal until we realize that Jesus is talking about discipleship—following him. Is discipleship a task, as in something we do, or is it an identity, as in something we become, something we are? I think it’s a matter of our identity. Following Jesus prepares us to become fishers for people. It prepares us to love the way Jesus loved, to accept people as Jesus accepted people, to serve as Jesus served, to sacrifice for others as Jesus sacrificed for others.

Sometimes following Jesus requires us to move in new and unexpected directions. My bachelor of science degree is in Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management with an emphasis in Environmental Policy and Compliance. My call to ordained ministry changed the course of my life. Now, I’m a pastor. Another call, my call to write, got me learning how to become an author. Now, I can’t stop writing books. And pursuing that call has opened a whole new world for me. (The friend I talked with on the phone who’s trying to get off the drugs and alcohol, I never would have met him if I weren’t pursuing my call to write).

Simon, Andrew, James, and John dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. We’re told that James and John left their father, Zebedee in the boat with the nets and the hired men, and followed Jesus who prepared them to become fishers for people. Then, the disciples prepared others to become fishers for people.

Jesus proclaimed God’s good news that the kingdom of God has come. We’re invited to follow Jesus, to take on new identities, to live our lives in new directions. Jesus calls us to change our minds, change our hearts, change our purpose, and believe that God loves us—that God loves all people—so much that God became a human being to announce the good news in person.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

~Rev. Christopher Millay

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