Mark 1: 14-20
Have you ever had a job that was terrible? Something that you either didn’t want to do or were completely unsuited for? I’ve had a few over the years. It’s not really that they were bad jobs in themselves, it’s just that I wasn’t the person to do them. I tried my hand working at a stereo and TV store as a commission sales person. Apparently, I’m not very good at sales. I’d have people come into the store all the time who had no interest in buying anything but just wanted someone to talk to. My boss would get so frustrated that I was supplying therapy instead of T.V.’s
I was also a security guard for a while and worked in some of the big hotels in downtown Vancouver. Often, my job was to kick the homeless people out of the lobby. I’d go home from a shift, especially on the cold rainy days with my soul aching.
As I say, it’s not that these are bad jobs – I’m so glad that there are doctors but as a person who feels queazy even at the thought of a paper cut, I’m sure glad I’m not one myself.
Jonah had a job he hated. He went along with the common view that those from Nineveh were the worst of the worst. Corrupt ungodly people from a corrupt ungodly city. Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the world and the capital of the Assyrian Empire. With all that wealth and power came the inevitable problems. Sure, the city was full of culture and beauty – it might have been home to the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it was also full of crime, corruption and horrible economic disparity. Jonah wanted nothing to do with these people and so when God called him to go there and preach repentance, he hopped a ship in the opposite direction.
You probably know what comes next – he’s swallowed by a fish, barfed up on the shores of Nineveh, and he finally takes the hint – he’s going to have to bring God’s message to the people.
In our Gospel reading, we also have a story of people being called into God’s service but in this case, those called seem less reluctant. Jesus is building his team. He needs people that are going to help him change the world and if Mark’s writing is any indication, he’s in a hurry. We’re only at the 14th verse of the 1st chapter and we’ve already met John the Baptist, there are 2 short verses about Jesus going into the wilderness to be tempted. So while Matthew is still going through all the generations from Abraham to Joseph, Mark’s Jesus is already well into his ministry.
We hear that John’s been arrested. It’s quite likely that Jesus started as one of John’s followers but now that his teacher is out of the picture, it’s time for the student to become master and do things John would likely never even imagine.
He’s going to need some followers of his own and there likely are already some that are with him. The 12 disciples is just a symbolic number representing the 12 tribes of Israel, the children of Abraham, those chosen to be God’s people. He’s already been building a reputation and many that followed John are probably now accompanying Jesus. This would of course include many women. In this reading he calls on the fishers. First is Simon and his brother Andrew and then it’s the sons of Zebedee, John and James.
This is an interesting reading in that it’s made to seem that it was all just so very simple. Jesus meets them, says “follow me,” and they do. In some ways, this makes perfect sense. I believe Jesus was one of those rare individuals that had tremendous charisma. When people were near him, they knew they were in the presence of something amazing. For some it was the amazement
of feeling like you were in the presence of the divine. For some it was the world changing message of peace and justice for all God’s children. Of course, for others, it was the amazing threat to the order of things, the order that was very profitable for a few in power.
Still though, I’m not sure it would have been as easy to leave everything and follow Jesus as this reading would have us believe. Here’s poor Zebedee who’s busy working with his sons. Having children in the time in history was an investment. If you were lucky enough to have a family business, a farm or a fishing boat, you had children to help. Then, later on your children would be the ones to take care of you as you reached old age, in your 30’s or 40’s. Having good strong hardworking sons would also be good for your family’s honour. Then here comes Jesus and he calls to his sons and says, “follow me.” Wait just a minute here! What about helping your dad? What about the shame this is going to bring your family as you leave and follow this itinerant preacher? What about the care of your family who has done so much for you?
For Zebebedee, this is an absolute tragedy! Jesus is ruining everything and is doing something so incredibly out of the ordinary that I’m sure this would be pretty offensive. In reality though, there’s probably much more to this story than what appears here on the pages. As is usually the case, the Gospel writer in not trying to convey exact historical events but is trying to teach us something, and I think, it has quite a bit to do with our friend Jonah. When God calls, what will you have to give up? If you’re thinking you’ve never have to give up anything to follow your faith, you haven’t had to make any really difficult choices, you’re either the luckiest person on the planet, or maybe you’ve gotten really good at hopping on a metaphorical boat heading to Tarshish rather than Nineveh.
I’ll bet though, for many of you, you’ll be able to point to a time when you’ve been challenged by a call and you’ve answered. Maybe it was a time when you decided to do what’s right rather than what’s popular, profitable or easy. Maybe it was a time you served your faith or your church when it would have been so much easier to turn away and retreat to comfort. Would it have been easier to stay fishing? Of course, but to fish for humanity, that’s hard, that’s risky, but that’s life changing and fantastic. To be a member of a church, to memorize the Jesus Prayer, and have a working knowledge of our hymn books is great, but it’s also pretty easy – we’re famous for accepting almost anyone. To take step farther though and move from membership to discipleship, that’s harder, thats riskier.
As disciples, we try to live into Jesus’ promise of the realm of God which has, as Jesus says, has come near. Sometimes this means stepping out of the boat that we’ve always fished from, that we’re comfortable sailing in, and that the world expects us to continue steering and jump overboard into the possibility of living out the ocean depths of God’s grace.
Sometimes answering to call to discipleship means turning away from the world’s preoccupation with dividing us into us and them, the good guys and the bad, those like us and those who are not, those who are normal and those who are strange. Answering the call to discipleship might mean learning the hard lesson taught to Jonah – we do not get to choose who God loves, even if it’s people of different skin colours or religions, different sexual orientations or political affiliation, people who have kept their noses clean and those plagued by bad decisions, even the Ninevites, whoever they may be for you. Only God gets to decide who it is that God loves and so to be safe, we have to assume that’s everyone.
The call to discipleship can be hard. At first it might even seem like the worst job in the world. Then again, God loves us and and as Jesus also said, we are to have abundant life. Maybe this comes down to trust and faith. Maybe we have to trust that if God is authentically calling us to something, we can trust that in the end, it will mean walking in blessing and holiness.