Third Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Mark 1:14-20
(Third Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by Jim 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.

DIAGNOSIS: Not belonging to the Kingdom of God

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Ignoring the Kingdom of God
John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and the coming of the “kingdom of God”. He witnessed the Holy Spirit’s consecration of Jesus as God’s only Son (1:4-8). Now, there is nothing wrong with tending nets. The world needs fishermen just like it needs all other worthy occupations. But the “kingdom of God” was just around the bend! You would think they would have heard of John’s ministry and taken it to heart. We too can get so buried in our work that the “kingdom of God” often passes us by. The question is not, should we abandon our daily work and apply for seminary education. The real question is, are we open to the call of the “kingdom of God” in the midst of our daily work?

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Opposing the Kingdom of God
The truth is, the “kingdom of God” seems like it would disrupt our daily work. Repenting and believing in the good news do not seem to fill the fishing nets or pay the bills or help to win a new contract or get the house cleaned. In fact, they seem not only unproductive but also counterproductive. They are, if we are following a different Lord and Savior than Jesus Christ. Whether it is our daily work itself, the good life, the “American Dream” or something else, when the “kingdom of God” comes our way, we are not simply caught off guard. It doesn’t phase us, because we have our own deeply entrenched ideas about salvation that have no room for repentance and grace. So we don’t just miss the kingdom of God. We oppose it.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Left Behind by the Kingdom of God
And by opposing the “kingdom of God”, by refusing to repent (or turn away from that other master and toward Christ), we ensure that we remain in what Mark calls “the wilderness” (1:4). We are accustomed to it, and so we are stuck with it, but it is a place where “wilder” things than ourselves are ultimately in control of our lives. The “bottom line” of business is a demanding taskmaster who never lets up. The house never stays clean for very long. There is little if any joy in the wilderness. It seems that “the kingdom of God” proclaimed by John was our one big chance to escape this wilderness, and we let it walk right past us.

PROGNOSIS: Drawn into the Kingdom of God

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The Kingdom of God Enters Our Wilderness
When Jesus comes along, “the time is now fulfilled” and the kingdom of God is now here. It is no longer “coming” over the horizon, it is right here in our wilderness! We thought the kingdom of God would leave us behind, but in the person of Jesus, it takes up residence in our wilderness. Jesus himself was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit (1:12). He was tempted by Satan just as we are. And Mark’s gospel depicts a Christ who seems to be left behind by everyone, even his own disciples, until he ends up stuck in our wilderness — on the Cross! In doing so, he has traded places with us, taken our wilderness upon himself, and has defeated it by his resurrection.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: The Kingdom of God turns us around
Our English translations do not capture the dramatic significance of 1:17 as fully as the original Greek, which literally reads, “I will make you to become fishers of people.” The Greek term for “to become” can also mean “to exist, to be born, to be created”. Thus Jesus makes clear that this is not merely a career change for the disciples. It is a completely new existence. The disciples and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to turn away (repent) from our loyalty to false kingdoms and to follow him. When the Gospel touches our lives, we naturally do what we previously found impossible: we “become” (are born anew as) followers of Jesus, putting our trust in him and leaving behind prior allegiances. We also are able to dispose of our fear that kept us from following Jesus in the midst of our daily work. Since we have been transformed by the “kingdom of God” and put our trust in Jesus, we can afford to be fishers of people for God right where we are.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: We Serve the Kingdom of God by including others
At the same time, notice how Jesus calls these “fishermen” to become “fishers” of people. James A. Patch in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia reports that successful fishermen like Simon, Andrew, James, and John were known for patience, fearlessness, and perseverance, qualities which served them well in the mission Jesus had called them to. Likewise for us, our “daily work” is not overthrown. Rather, it is “baptized” so that our life out in the world can be strategically used to advance the “kingdom of God”. Most especially, each of us knows better than others what kind of wildernesses exist in our own “daily work” context, and we are called to enter into those wildernesses in the name of Jesus our Lord and Savior and see to it that others are brought into the “kingdom of God”. For each of us, it is precisely our daily work experience that equips us to be able to do this work.


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