Mark 1:14–20 (NRSV)
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
(Mt 4:12–17; Lk 4:14–15)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
(Mt 4:18–22; Lk 5:1–11)
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The past few weeks I have spoken a bit about the awesome mystery and power of the incarnation. Oddly enough my mind has been awestruck to this topic. I do not think I am seeking to find a complete scientific understanding as to how it occurred, but I am more transfixed on the fact that it has. To consider that God walks with us, that he took on human flesh and lived a complete human life. A life that was filled with the same temptations, joys, sorrows, stresses, pains, and laughter. I sit and I consider that, well usually I am not sitting when I do my considering. Usually I am frantically opening boxes and attempting not to drop the pickles on the floor because if I drop the pickles I will be praying for God to take me now. But I think about the humanness of Christ as I work. I wonder as I am placing gourmet peanut butters in their location what Jesus might have enjoyed to eat. When I look at the amount of work needing to be complete and the lack of people to assist in the task I wonder if that was the feeling Jesus might have had when he uttered the words, “the fields are ripe for harvest but the laborers are few.” The mystery of the incarnation is one that keeps me in wonder.
Today’s passage starts shortly after the baptism of Jesus by John, and Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness. There is something about Mark’s description of Jesus’ time of teaching that almost makes me laugh because it is like three years placed on fast forward. He rushes from one thing to the next, with very little indication that there was time in between. Jesus meets with John, gets baptized and is tempted in a couple of paragraphs, where the other Gospels present these things in a couple of chapters. I think Mark would have been one of those types of people that would not waste words, he would probably have been liked by many early Quakers because his ministry was not filled with idleness and vanity he just gets to the point, presents what has been laid on his heart to present and moves on. I like that about Mark.
We meet Jesus today after he has experienced a period of time in intense fasting and temptation, and he comes back to the community only to learn that John has been arrested. It is important to consider this. Jesus returns from this time of solitude and upon return the ministry making the greatest stir within the community has been essentially silenced. There is a void within the community, the voice crying in the wilderness is no longer crying from the wild places, it has been muffled behind guarded walls. Yet the message will not be silenced. When God wants something to occur it will happen. John was arrested and at that moment Mark says Jesus fills the void and continues to preach the gospel of the kingdom.
There is a both a similarity and a difference in the messages presented by john and Jesus. Both us similar language, “the kingdom of God is near.” Yet John says, “there is one who will come after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Jesus, on the other hand, states, “The time is fulfilled!”
Have we ever taken a moment to reflect on this transition of message? We honor John the Baptist, we cherish his contribution to faith but there is something lacking within it. Everything about the message of John is incomplete. Even the baptism he offers as a sign of repentance is in his own words in complete. “I baptize you with water,” John says, “but the one after me will baptize with the Spirit and fire.” The baptism of John is incomplete, it lacks something significant, it is merely a sign post that points to something greater ahead. It is like a billboard letting you know what awaits us at the next exit on the highway of life. This is why the leaders of the early church corrected Apollos when he went out preaching the baptism of John. Those that pass through the waters of repentance do not have lasting change unless something greater comes in.
The phrase, “The time is fulfilled,” has been an anchor for me this week. I have pondered the significance of that one statement in my prayers. Jesus says this at the beginning of his ministry not at the end. Yes, he does say on the cross that it is finished, but here in the beginning Jesus says, “Time is fulfilled.” Before Jesus performed his first miracle, time is fulfilled. Before Jesus had his first debate over interpretation of scripture with the scribe and Pharisees, he boldly says that time is fulfilled. Time is fulfilled and, as far as we can see, nothing happened. Let that sit with you for a bit. As we are seated here in this meeting house two thousand years later still awaiting the advent of our lord, our lord stated before everything else that everything all of time has been fulfilled. But wait Armageddon has not yet happened, the rapture however we interpret it has not occurred, the world is still steeped in chaos, how can Jesus say Time is fulfilled?
It is a lovely mystery. Yet the truth is that at that moment, the moment God took on human flesh and took up residence within a community, time was fulfilled. When Jesus enter into this world though the obedience of his mother Mary, God fulfilled time. He restored what was lost by our first parents and God once again visited with humanity in the cools of the evening. Time is fulfilled because God is with us.
The incarnation, this wrapping of humanity around God, is the fulfilling of all things. Everything else a void, an empty vessel, something that might be beautiful and may even hold some emotional significance but it is incomplete and absent of the whole truth. John says repent and be baptized because the kingdom is coming, Jesus says time has been fulfilled repent and believe because the kingdom is here.
But what does this mean? For centuries we have waited for the fulfilment of time, for millennia we have anticipated the fulfillment of all things. Why are we still waiting if everything has already been completed even as Jesus spoke his first sermon, a sermon by the way that consisted of nineteen words? Why are we still waiting in this chaotic mystery? Repent and believe.
This is the second difference between the message of John and that of Jesus. John said repent and be baptized and Mark tells us that Jesus states that we should repent and believe. Again, this shows the incomplete nature of the ministry of John that is brought into fulfillment in Jesus. Both encourage us to repent. Repentance is of primary importance to embrace this holy mystery. The idea surrounding repentance is turning. It is often described as turning around and going in the opposite direction. For most of us this is an excellent definition, it describes that moment in time where we recognized in our own selves that the course of life we were taking or are still walking might not be the best way to traverse, so we stop what we are doing and we go the other direction. But Jesus says that time has been fulfilled so maybe this idea of repentance might in itself be incomplete.
Our first parents began a journey in life. Well, maybe began a journey is not the best way to describe it, because they we exiled. They took it upon themselves to poses the knowledge of good and evil, they had this desire within themselves to know not only good but also evil. And at that moment they turned and walked away from God. They allowed a personal desire to come between the relationship they had with God, causing a distraction and a turn. From that moment on God has called out to them to return, to come back, to repent, to abandon the journey they were on away from him and to begin a journey back to his embrace. Repentance is a return to God, it is an acknowledgement that we are just out here wondering in this barren wasteland trying in vain to find this knowledge of good and evil only finding that the more we search the more evil we dig up. When all along in the back of our mind there is a voice saying to us come and rest. Come walk with me, return to me. Repent.
We can repent all we want but we have walked a long journey, and to make it worse in our desire to have this knowledge of good and evil and finding all sorts of evil to entertain our lives, we have been exiled from life. We cannot fully come back because we carry evil with us, we have rolled around in the wilderness and are covered with the stench of evil. This stench is something that God will and cannot not tolerate. He cannot let us come near him in his purity because our corruption will stain the carpets in his pristine palace. It is like coming in from outside walking through the mud of our yards after the snow melted, and not removing our shoes when we come inside. We walk in and in the wake, we leave stains. I can still hear my mother yelling at me.
Before we enter we must remove all that might leave a stain, but our hands are cold because we have been walking through the frozen darkness and our fingers are numb. We cannot untie our shoes because we cannot feel the strings binding the to our feet. We stand there in the gates crying out but who hears our cries? Only one with warm fingers can come to unbind our feet. Only the one that is currently in the house can provide access to the inviting warmth of the fire. Someone must come to us and redeem. The incarnation, God with us.
We return and we cry out but we are standing on the threshold of the great house, but still we are not totally inside. We must allow that redeemer to remove the staining garments. This is belief. Repentance is the return the coming to the door, and belief is entrusting that the one we call out to will provide the means to get us to where we want to go. We might ask why do we still wait? Why, if all things have already been fulfilled, are we still standing in the doorway of life crying and not experiencing life?
Belief is more than just knowledge that something is available. It is more than trust. It is the entrusting of all we have to that which we hope for. It is putting faith in something. It is leaving all we once knew and fully embracing the mystery before us. We wait because humanity waits. God does not wish that any would be left out in the cold darkness so he waits to allow all the opportunity to repent and believe.
This moves us from Jesus’ first sermon of nineteen words to the calling of the first disciples. Jesus goes to galilee and he boldly preaches the good news that the kingdom is here. And as he walks along the shores of the sea he sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets. I often wonder about that scene. How long did Jesus watch them work? Did he laugh at the bickering that most probably would have occurred with two brothers working together? He watched them and eventually he calls out to them, “Hey follow me and I will let you catch people instead.”
Follow me. Two simple words. The meaning implied in these words is the complete abandonment of the previous ways of life to fully embrace what goes before them. It is an image of discipleship a taking on a new way of life. To follow Jesus is much more than a pray of repentance it is a new lifestyle. Simon and Andrew were once known completely as fishermen, but if they were to take a step away from the boat they would cease being what they were and would embrace a totally new way of life.
Jesus calls us to follow too. He calls us to join him on his journey. The journey with the express purpose to fulfill all of time. We are still waiting but we are not actually waiting we are following Jesus as he brings about the completion of his purpose. Jesus says follow me and I will make you fish people. This statement has always baffled me. Probably because I am not someone who spends time fishing. But these brothers are out on the sea throwing a net out on the water and this net gathers the fish so that they can be drawn in. Follow me Jesus says, and I will make you gather and draw people in to me.
All of humanity is wondering in the cold barren wilderness, they are out there shivering in the dark. Not knowing where to turn. They need someone to draw them in. They need someone to throw them a blanket and rub their arms to get the blood flowing. They need someone to walk with them showing them the way. And they need someone to remove their shoes so they can enter without stain. Jesus is the fulfilment and we are the nets thrown out on so that we can direct people to Christ.
We seemingly wait because we have not fully embraced our purpose. We still want to cling to our lives instead of allowing Jesus to use us to the fullest. We wait because Jesus is waiting for the weight of our trials to become just heavy enough so that the fringe of our lives can wrap fully around those he has called us to and allow him to draw people to himself. We wait so Jesus, God with us can bring more to him. We wait but we wait not in an incomplete reality, we work in the entrusting knowledge that life has been restored and redeemed through Jesus. Who came as a baby, who worked along side his family, who embraced the fulfilling ministry he was called to, and who provided the means to remove the stains of sin through his sacrifice on the cross. We wait in the hope of the resurrection because we know through Jesus that death no longer binds us to the exile in darkness. We wait because God is using us to draw more to him and we walk in his will we entrust our lives to his. We wait in the mystery between void and fulfillment.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy let us embrace the completeness of Christ. Let us marvel at the mystery of his Incarnation, and let us embrace and entrust our lives to our God with us so that we can follow the one who redeems all things.