Reflections from Mark’s Gospel
As you know, we have begun an in-depth study/discussion of Mark’s story of Jesus. Starting with this blog, I will post a short reflection drawn from Mark’s text that will seek to connect to our own lives (echoing the comment made a couple generations ago by Karl Barth, to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other).
Mark refers to his message as “Good News” or “Gospel” (evangelion). In so doing he began a new genre of literature, but he borrowed the concept from the political world of his day. This word was a technical term for news of a victory, usually and paradigmatically, a military victory.
In the Roman empire it was associated with political news and propaganda, for example, used to announce the birthdays of emperors. Mark’s Good News is a narrative sermon (not simply a collection of historical facts and summaries), and the question it gives the reader is not only what we should know, but how we should live. The language (like much of theology) is not only informative, but also formative, and therefore performative. And this inform—form—perform —inform… relational dynamic is ongoing, a virtuous circle meant to fuel the disciple’s life.
When Jesus calls his first disciples, he does not go to the usual suspects: teachers and religious leaders, or wealthy and powerful men. He does not go to the center of cultural, political, and religious power (Judea, Jerusalem, the Temple precincts). Rather, he goes to the margins, the periphery, the “Appalachia” of his time and place, to Galilee, and there enlists four fishermen (Mark 1.16-20). Something the reader cannot help but notice is how abruptly Simon, Andrew, James, and John, drop their nets and follow him. He calls them to follow with the rationale that Jesus will make them “fishers of men” (people). And they leave their businesses and families “immediately” (a word Mark uses 41 times in his Gospel). You can see the father of James and John—Zebedee—slack-jawed and holding the net, staring at his sons as they walk off with this stranger.
Read in the ordinary way, this passage just seems like a clumsy effort to be succinct, and an example of the no frills and fast-paced way Mark presents his story. But perhaps we can see the abruptness of the calling of these first four disciples as a kind of paradigm. After all, we too are called, but are not ready for all that awaits us. How could we be? It does not matter if we grew up in the church, went to Sunday School, got baptized, and spent plenty of time in prayer, worship, and Bible study. When we receive Jesus’ call, we are far from entirely aware of what it means and where it will take us. Like the fishermen, none of us are the “right” kind of people. Jesus’ call is always urgent, and an uncompromising call to break with “business as usual”—the social order and conventions that God broke into history to overturn. Jesus was God’s answer to Isaiah’s yearning and plea to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1). The Reign of God (“kingdom of God”) inaugurated in Jesus is an abrupt calling in, and upon, our lives too. In his The Cost of Discipleship (p. 61), Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes that the calling of these four men demonstrates Jesus’ authority as transcending conventions and calculations about being “worthy.” He also points out that this story is a reminder that faith (trust) does not precede obedience to Jesus so much as obedience precedes faith. For these fishermen and for us, the question is, Will you follow? It is on the following journey that our faith and trust develop.
In a world with violence and injustice swirling around us at every turn, with claimants to authority beckoning us from every angle, with false and empty enticements of “good news” that abound, it is truly good news that we can grow into a life of trust, grace, love, and power as we journey with the One who calls us each step of the way. Step by step. The song Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Ceasár Gabaráin, 1979) places us at the Sea of Galilee,
You have come to the lakeshore,
looking neither for wise nor for wealthy,
You only wanted that I should follow.
You know that I own so little,
In my boat there’s no money or weapons,
You’ll only find there my nets and labor.
O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
and while smiling, have called out my name.
Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.
Now with you I will seek other shores.
Do you hear your name?
Thanks for reading,