Third Sunday After Epiphany

The Good News is the Real Celebrity

Mark 1:14-20
Third Sunday After Epiphany
Analysis by James Squire 


14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. 

“Jesus was too busy “on the loose” … spreading the good news of the kingdom of God.”

Author’s note: As we know, Mark does not dilly-dally. He gets right down to it. John the Baptist is a memory (until it needs to be dredged up later). We saw it in the baptism text that precedes this one. What Matthew and Luke spend whole passages on, Mark knocks off in a verse or two. But my goodness. John was arrested! Isn’t that the way sometimes? You make straight the paths for someone who is to follow, and the chroniclers just use you as a prop? Wait until you see how the story uses the main character, though … 

DIAGNOSIS: The Story Centers Jesus 

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Jesus hogs the spotlight 

Jesus is baptized and emerges to a booming voice from heaven announcing his greatness. He becomes a steamrolling preacher standing on a street corner in the wilderness, declaring a critical moment in human history (kairos in Greek) when the divine is at the world’s doorstep. He presents this as good news that should be met with repentance and belief. There seems to be no room in his story for any other stars. He seems to hog center stage. Everyone – so far – follows him without question, like lemmings. They don’t really understand what he’s all about or they would run quickly in the opposite direction. 

Well, we know better than to follow such a reckless fellow, anyway. There’s too much going on in this mess of a world to waste our time on some maniac preaching repentance and the kingdom of God. We’re having a devil of a time keeping this puny world in one piece. The last thing we  need is another kingdom moving in and presuming to take over. 

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): We try to steal the spotlight 

Now, if he was more of team builder than a prima donna hogging the spotlight, that would be a different story. We would be on board with that. But no. He gets the booming voice of approval from heaven. He gets to have his clothing shine brightly on the mountain (Mark 9). He gets to be the paranoid one (Mark 8). It’s all about him, him, him. What about us? Some of us are more patient than others, willing to go along for a while. Maybe at some point it will all make sense, who knows. Then again, some will follow simply because they are followers, hoping that proximity to Jesus will magically rub off on them and they too will begin to glow radiantly. 

 It does seem reasonable to expect that when God comes into our world, he should help us conquer it before he starts thrusting his world upon us. Dropping everything – in the middle of the workday, no less – to follow blindly? Anyone who does that is pathetic. 

Step 3-Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): The spotlight is too much for us 

Alas, he is not going to be reasonable about this. “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) is his hard and fast rule. “Those who want to save their life will lose it” (Mark 8:35). This is the Jesus, representative of the kingdom of God, who blows into our lives and our world like a hurricane, as if the eye of the storm is the only safe place to be. He is unstoppable, and he disrupts our plans for this world. With friends like this, who needs enemies? 

From Canva

PROGNOSIS: Jesus Centers the Good News 

Step 4-Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Jesus turns the spotlight into his ministry 

We forget that Jesus was born into this mess of a world we are obsessed with fixing. He was parented by humans, one of whom had a decent carpentry business and may have even viewed this world as worth fixing. Jesus was baptized along with all the other sinners into a world that was already demanding repentance in some sectors. You might say that Jesus is the kingdom of God made manifest among us. 

 And do we really crave the spotlight when we see what center stage did to him? His paranoia (Mark 8) proved to be visionary, though in truth it was not paranoia. It was his mission and his ministry to this world to take up his cross for our sake.  Because this world – as it is – is not fixable. This world resists fixing, especially by “outsiders.” This world will rise up in violence against people like Jesus, and in fact it did. It killed him. And then, there he was again, back out in the world with his new kingdom approach (Mark 16:6- 7). He did not even wait for them to greet him and congratulate him on his resurrection and his defeat of death. He was too busy “on the loose” (Fred Niedner) spreading the good news of the kingdom of God, healing people, and forgiving sins. It was never ultimately about him (though we couldn’t do it without him) – it was about us and the promise. It was about the good news for sinners who felt cut off from the kingdom. Jesus’ mission was to get them reconnected to the kingdom of God. 

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Jesus includes us in his spotlight ministry 

And he invited his followers – both self-respecting and pathetic – to trust him, even with our own crosses, and join him  “on the loose.” There is still a place in this walking, talking, acting kingdom of God for Simon, Andrew, James, John, and all the rest of us, no matter how dense or standoffish or pathetic we are. The good news is what it is all about, and after all, “good news” is not for the benefit of the disciples, it is for the benefit of our audience, the ones we tell it to. That is a whole new kind of team building. 

Step 6-Final Prognosis (External Solution): We heal and invite the ignored to share the ministry 

We have been hopelessly included in this reckless kingdom of God, and the natural thing to do is to get on with the recklessness for the benefit of others. As we well know, our world is full of innocent victims of state violence, geopolitical violence, political violence here at home, along with scarcity and greed which breed their own kinds of violence. Simon, Andrew, James, John, and the other disciples could whisper in our ears about all the stuff they saw as they tried their best to keep up with Jesus. They also saw the healing that was possible in this kingdom, though they did not begin to understand it until after his death and resurrection. They could tell us that fixing the world is not the ultimate priority because sooner or later it will fail miserably. They were not about to throw the world away, like one of the infamous cults of recent decades, but they learned to value the lives they could touch and heal with the good news over winning some political war. They were reoriented toward the ochlos (“nameless, forgotten crowds or  multitudes,” as Ed Schroeder was fond of reminding us) and away from the power centers, and they would encourage us to allow ourselves to be reoriented (a kind of repentance, after all) in a similar fashion. Jesus may have the central role in the kingdom, but his actions create in us a new kind of living that we can thrive on, secure in the knowledge of our own redemption. 

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Shine Down, Rise Up

Matthew 17:1-9
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Analysis by Matt Metevelis

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

Transfiguration of Jesus, by Carl Bloch, c. 1865 (Fredriksborg Palace) Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The journey of the disciples moves from beholding Jesus in glory to meeting him as he opens their eyes and comforts them with his word. They ascend “by themselves” according to the first verse. Before they descend, they meet “Jesus himself alone” earthbound and fully present in the final verse. Seeking Jesus in his glory is replaced with hearing him in his grace.


Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): CGI Jesus

The sight of Jesus covered in shimmery glory stuns the disciples and baffles us. This story stands outside the regular narrative of teachings and healings from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has a shining face and a glimmering robe. He talks with dead prophets. Such scenes are more recognizable to us in Marvel movies than in our everyday lives. We do not experience our religion through the miraculous suspension of the laws of nature. Nor do we expect to. Some believers might even treat this story as a possible embellishment or hallucination on the part of the disciples. This story amazes us and seems incredible (or uncredible) to many of our neighbors. An enchanted Jesus seems so distant from our disenchanted world.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Friends in High Places

Though we don’t experience Jesus in lofty settings, they are precisely where we imagine we’ll find him. The Jesus most people know is shrouded in exalted words and fantastic iconography. He is somehow above the world we inhabit, attended by angels, and adored by dedicated saints. We think of him in terms of divine superpowers and unattainable teachings about loving people. Religion for many people belongs in distant places like mountain tops. Some people seek to ascend to them. Others forsake the climb to scratch out their own sense of morality or find comfort in the foothills. When Jesus is portrayed as a heavenly being surrounded by flashing lights and exalted company, he remains high above us. Many appreciate this because, if Jesus is lifted into heaven, we can keep ourselves a safe distance from him here on earth. This narrative tempts us into a great religious failing: to conceive a God who is high up and far off.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Keeping God in a Tent

Once we place God on high, chasing God becomes our personal achievement. We seek God in ecstatic experiences, isolating ourselves from the world to get closer to the divine. This is the religion of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Relating to God (or the universe or inner peace or whatever numinous reality) spiritually, is never a matter of sitting in the same space as other people, saying the same prayers, listening to the same things, holding to the same traditions. “Spiritual” people seek God apart from the company of others and in “mountaintop” experiences—meditating, hiking, exercising in the “flow state,” or any number of other individual activities. Connection to higher realities is about personal efforts and thoughts and achievements. This is Peter’s impetus to build tents and house the holy glory revealed in Jesus just as the kavod or God’s presence entered the tabernacle in the book of Exodus. God stays high up and unmoving, so meeting God becomes the story of our effort, our individual effort. If God stays up on the mountain finding, him will always be our own personal story.

The voice of Jesus makes us a light for the whole earth. (from Canva)

PROGNOSIS: Coming Down

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): The Word Unleashed

Peter’s quest to contain Jesus in a place of pilgrimage is overshadowed (literally) by a cloud with a message. The disciples are told to listen to Jesus instead of seeking him in visions of glory. Rather than telling their own story, they must listen to Jesus speak. “Rise up,” he tells them, “Do not be afraid.” The journey of the disciples moves from beholding Jesus in glory to meeting him as he opens their eyes and comforts them with his word. They ascend “by themselves” according to the first verse. Before they descend, they meet “Jesus himself alone” earthbound and fully present in the final verse. Seeking Jesus in his glory is replaced with hearing him in his grace. Jesus no longer catches their eye, he catches their ear. No longer do they seek glory, that glory becomes a word that seeks them. The law abruptly ends, and the gospel begins. Jesus lifts his cowering disciples to their feet and occupies their entire field of vision.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): God in Low Places

A god confined to a mountain top will always be cloaked behind a lofty goal or an exalted quest—a canvas onto which we project our own fears, struggles, and illusions. God in Jesus Christ has come down from the mountain to seek us in those same fears and struggles, replacing our illusions with the reality that we just cannot bear those crosses on our own. “Rising up” is not just something Jesus tells the disciples to do, it is also something that he does—rising up in from his tomb so that we all might have new life and freedom from fear. Such divine glory isn’t content to hang out in a tabernacle but clings to a cross. While we remain tempted to chase our image of God up a mountain, the real God awaits us in the valley—nailed there in order to meet us where we slip and fall. We meet Christ, not in our most ecstatic spiritual experiences, but in real life. We find him when we are trapped in ourselves, and crucified by our sins, afflictions, and flaws. And it’s right there where it’s not our own voice, but the voice of another that says, “Rise up, don’t be afraid.”

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): From Vision to Voice

We might not glimpse God in heavenly visions. But the incarnate God we know in Jesus Christ buries his voice in our interactions with one another. Once we hear him ourselves, we are empowered to say, “Stand up, don’t be afraid” to our neighbors. We confess this freedom from fear when we share our faith. We embody it when we meet our neighbor in her suffering and empower her to stand up and tell her story without trying to judge or proscribe. We enter into it when we advocate or speak for those who can’t be heard. We embrace it when we help people to stand just by standing beside them. We carry it when we shout the gospel either to ourselves or to our communities—especially when those voices of fear try to overthrow it. Our faith becomes the place where the voice of Jesus speaks. This is the miracle that people witness over and over again. When faithful saints like John Lewis stand up and walk across a bridge in Selma, or when we do like the Italian priest who, in the height of COVID, gave up his respirator so that another could have it. The voice of Jesus makes us a rising, sacrificing, fearless people and makes his glory not just a flash and flicker on top of a mountain, but a light for the whole earth.