The Beginning of the Galilean MinistryMark 1:14-20 (NRSVUE)
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 in the good news.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Today’s scripture reading is one of the most beloved for many people because the calling of the disciples is a real “rubber hits the road” time when Jesus not only begins teaching but also begins to plan for how his story will continue to be told and spread to the corners of the earth. Today, we hear about Jesus walking along the seashore. I imagine that he is watching looking at the boats as he hears the screeching seagulls and the gentle roll of the waves on the shore. Then it seems that out of the blue, he calls to a few fishermen, saying, “Follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people.” Amazingly enough, the fishermen drop their nets. They leave their responsibilities and their families (as scripture says, James and John immediately left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men) and follow Jesus.
Now I don’t know about you, but though is story is beloved by many, I have always struggled with it. Perhaps my faith isn’t strong enough. Maybe I’m not very trusting of others. But I have a hard time understanding how Simon, Andrew, James, and John could have simply walked away from their life and their responsibilities without even asking, “Who are you? And where are you taking us?” Maybe it was the Holy Spirit that worked within them, assuring them that it was the right thing to do. Maybe they could just sense that there was something special about Jesus, and they felt called to follow him. Or maybe we don’t get the complete story of what happened.
Whenever I hear this story, however, I always wonder how many other fishermen, doctors, teachers, street sweepers, or garbage collectors did Jesus invite who turned his invitation down. We never hear about those stories, do we? Well, luckily for us, Simon, Andrew, James, and John did hear the call, they dropped their nets, and they did follow Jesus.
One of the reasons that I struggle so much with this scripture reading is that for me, faith is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Let me share a story that might clarify that a little more. When I was in my late twenties, I was a wife and a mother of three young children, and the call to ministry that I had felt in the pit of my stomach since I was twelve years old was burning out of control. I could not ignore it anymore. I thought about it all the time. I prayed about it. I thanked God for it, and yet I struggled with it at the same time. The hardest part about my call to ministry for me was today’s story. The story of four fishermen leaving their boats, their nets, their responsibilities, and their families and following Jesus. I wanted so badly to follow my call to follow Jesus and yet there was no way that I could leave my family. How could God want me to leave three young children and a husband and all of my responsibilities at home? How could the world be a better place with three motherless children and another broken family? How could God ask me to do that? Well, the good news, my friends, is that after years of prayer, years of patience, years of listening, and years of study, I learned that my call to ministry, my call to follow Jesus, and my call to being a good Christian was through my responsibilities of being a good wife and a good mother.
Folks, what I learned is that it is all about listening to God first and getting our priorities straight. Because when we choose to follow Jesus–and it is a choice, my friends!–when we choose to follow Jesus, we choose to look at life through a new lens. We choose to live our lives with a new set of priorities. And we choose to make decisions based not on society’s trends and opinions but on our faithful foundation in Christ.
There is a quote by Eugene Peterson that says, “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it. To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes” (The Way of Jesus, Eugene H. Peterson, 22).
Now, let’s take a minute to break that down a little. “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it.” And that’s true not only for Jesus, my friends but for us too. Because what we say, what we do, and how we do it are all important. Though we do often teach others far more by the things we do than by the things we say.
And then finally, “To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes.” I must tell you this is the part that I struggled with the most when I first read it, but now it’s the part that resonates with me the most. In church, we talk an awful lot about ourselves, about centering ourselves and feeding our hearts and our minds. We discuss how we think, what we understand, and how we feel, and don’t get me wrong, those are all important things when we are here in worship. But when we leave this place and go back out into the world as we do each week, as we follow Jesus out into the streets to our homes and to our schools and to our places of work, it’s not about our hearts, our minds, and our feelings. It’s our feet that matter the most! Because it is our actions and the things that we are physically doing. Just like the disciples who dropped their nets and followed Jesus, we follow Jesus by the way that we live out our faith in the real world, the decisions we make, the priorities we set, and the life we live. But to not lose sight of the path that Jesus calls us down, to have strength for the journey, and to keep our priorities straight. It takes spending time with Jesus in worship, in prayer, in silence, and in deep relationships.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, Jesus also equips us to face whatever comes our way as long as we stay focused on him. My friends, it’s not easy. It’s hard work following Jesus. But just remember, many of the disciples were killed for following Jesus and being Christians. Now, though we have it much easier today, following Jesus still means sometimes standing up for justice issues or standing against what society thinks is cool. And the road before us is filled with bumps and stumbling blocks. Especially because of the claims of different so-called Christian groups on television and because of the reputation that Christianity has gotten as being judgmental, close-minded, and self-serving. But my friends, it’s our job to put those claims aside whether we think they are true or not. It’s our job to worry not about what society thinks or says but instead to follow Jesus. Not to argue with others about who we are, what is important to us, or who is right and who is wrong. But to let our feet, our actions, and our lives show the world the love of God. That is how we drop our nets and follow Jesus. Friends don’t worry about what others think or what others do. Instead, focus on truly living out your call, being the hand and feet of Jesus on this earth.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, it is my hope and my prayer that deep in your heart you do choose to follow Jesus. And if you do, I hope that you remember that it’s not about words. It’s not about saying that you are a Christian. It’s about setting your priorities, living out your faith, and keeping your feet firmly planted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!