Mark 1:14-20, I Cor. 7:29-31
You are sitting minding your own business by the water’s edge, just getting on with the work at hand when this rather interesting guy appears in your peripheral and calls out hey you, yes you, come follow me! So, what would you do? If you get up to follow, what might be going through your mind? If you ignore him, again what might be going through your mind?
I would hope that I might be at least curious – let my curiosity get the better of me and find out what this guy’s about. Of course, Galilee is a small place and I may already know this guy by his reputation -which is doing the rounds on the local gossip grapevine.
Yet, if I acted true to form, my natural suspicion coupled with a sense of not wanting to complicate my life any more than it already is – would have me weighing up the pros and cons of a yes or no response. Like most of the people I know, I’m not a spontaneous – throw caution to the wind – kind of person. A big con – as in contrary indicator would be what’s it going to cost me to get involved? After all, anything for a quiet life.
Chapter 1 of Mark’s gospel moves at a breath-taking pace. It opens on the grand panorama of Jesus’ descent from the hill country into the valley of the Jordan to join the crowded throng of those streaming out from Jerusalem to listen to John the Baptizer and be baptized by him in the river Jordan. There follows Jesus’ own baptism – the occasion for a second epiphany as the heavens are torn apart as God loudly adopts Jesus as his son.
For Mark there is not a moment too soon; there is no time to lose. In the encompass of Mark’s first chapter Jesus is baptized and tested. John is arrested and Jesus calls his first disciples. He preaches in the synagogue provoking the unclean spirits to cry out in fearful protest, and there’s astonishment among the congregation at the authority of his teaching. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law and the whole city gathers at Simon’s door. An exhausted Jesus seeks solitude during the small hours of the night, only to be hunted and hounded by his disciples’ panic as they desperately look for him. The day no sooner begins, when a leper comes begging to be healed. Things are moving very fast, indeed. The chapter ends with the healed man broadcasting Jesus’ fame far and wide – specifically against Jesus’ instruction to keep things on the down-low.
At verse 14 mark begins: 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 the good news.
His sense of urgency does not allow Mark to dwell on too much detail in the telling of his Jesus biography. Intent on keeping up a sense of urgency he adds nothing that would cushion the impact between decision and action. Mark wants to present Jesus as someone of such charismatic presence and authority that it never occurs to these busy fishermen not to follow him.
Perhaps there have been times in our lives when we have had a similar experience of being arrested by another’s charismatic request – that so excited us, had our heart pounding, blood pressure rising that saying no was an option that just didn’t occur to us. Whether such an experience has happened to us or not – it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples as Mark depicts them. We live lives of such caution – deeply formed by a culture of suspicion – continually preoccupied with the prospect of loss following hasty ill thought through action. Our actions are preceded by solemn deliberation, habitually weighing the pros and cons before acting as a buffer insulating us from the experience of urgency.
With equal measure of trepidation and desire I suspect we might secretly desire encountering the kind of hey you, yes you – kind of call – wrenching us out of the mind-numbing mundanity of our lives – filling us with passion and conviction. Perhaps this was the experience of so many who heeded the former-President’s call to mount an insurrection. The desire to respond to a call to action -triggering passions born of disillusion and dissatisfaction – is a moment of intoxicating liberation – a sense of being part of something so much greater than our small selves.
Who among us do not at some level desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves – to be caught up in a greater cause bringing to ordinary lives marked by frustration and limitation a sense of greater purpose and direction?
In answer to my opening question – so, what would you do? The likelihood of getting up and following Jesus is slim. We are not the kind of people who take this kind of risk – perhaps more’s the pity! Because despite whatever secret desire we harbor in the deeper regions of our hearts, our kind of faith works to insulate us from the urgency of the kingdom’s expectations. Do we even recognize kingdom expectations in the first place? For instance, take the call for repentance. Repentance is mostly a noble notion to be attained to rather than a pressing concern driving us at the level of daily urgency.
If we are likely to be unmoved by a hey you – yes you call to discipleship what might move us from complacency to urgency? I think we need to take a second look at Mark 1:14.
The first thing Mark does is to set the stage with: Now after John was arrested. Mark sees John’s arrest as the catalyst moment for Jesus to launch onto the public stage with his proclamation manifesto – listen up, the kingdom of God has arrived!
Last Sunday I announced that we find ourselves in a liminal season defined as the sweet spot between the known and unknown where originality happens. Simon, Andrew, James and John get up to follow Jesus without a second backwards glance because they’ve little to lose given their predicament as itinerant fisherman struggling to make ends meet under a Roman occupation – an economic system in which everything was stacked against them. In short they are propelled by a sense of urgency for change.
Jesus announces the arrival of a window of time between the known that has ceased to work and the unknown yet to be tested. Jesus announces the arrival of a liminal time in which the past remembered pivots towards the future reshaped. His call to the disciples is an invitation that reverberates through every cell of their bodies – every fiber of their being.
St Paul clearly understood the vibrant urgency of the kingdom’s call when in 1 Corinthians 7 he writes: I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short – for the present form of this world is passing away.
But what of us? Do we hear God calling us to a recognition that the time has grown short the form of this world is passing away. The call to discipleship for us is less of a personal charismatic rapture and more an urgent recognition of the need for repentance. We need to think about repentance not so much as sack cloth and ashes but as our wholehearted support for change. Discipleship for us means in the words of a somewhat overused yet important phrase – embracing with fear and trembling, sorrow and remorse, the very change we long to see.
For Mark there is not a moment too soon; there is no time to lose. For Paul the form of this world – the pall of injustice and greed that cloaks a deeper view of creation’s possibilities – is passing away.
A modern paraphrasing of Mark 1:14 – an announcement of a liminal time – might read as follows: Now after the onslaught of the pandemic laying bare all that is wrong in our world and bringing the specter of death to Americans numbering in the hundreds of thousands; after decades of the powerful sowing the seeds of division and suspicion for power and profit leading to an attempt to overthrow the Constitution incited by a sitting president desperate to cling to power; we are rudely awakened to:
Lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division. Amanda Gorman.
There really isn’t a moment too soon, there’s not time left to lose. Amen.