1150) Following Jesus (a)

Mark 1:14b-20  —  Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”  And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.  And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.

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     There are three distinct parts to this little story.  First, there is a one sentence summary of the Good News that Jesus was proclaiming all through the region of Galilee:  “The time has come; the Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”  Second, there is a challenge by Jesus to four men, calling them to join in the proclamation of that good news.  “Follow me,” said Jesus, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  Third, there is the response of those men who decided they would follow this Jesus, leaving everything else behind to do so.  Three parts:  the message, the call, and the response.

     First, the message:  “The Kingdom of God is near.”  But someone might well have said, “So what?– we already have a kingdom.” And, the kingdom they were a part of was without a doubt one of the greatest ever.  Rome ruled the world, and for those willing to submit to their authority, the Roman Empire provided many benefits.  They had the protection of the Roman army, the stability of the Roman government and system of justice, and they were part of a thriving world-wide economy.  Many Jews, however, would not submit, remaining fiercely independent, and wanting their own government to rule.  The Romans did collect high taxes, the government was filled with corruption, and they could be brutal to anyone who opposed them.  But anyone who knew their history knew that the Jews had all of those same problems, and more, when they ruled themselves.  However, when Jesus went around offering another kingdom, there were many who said, “No thanks,” believing that Rome could offer more than this itinerant preacher.

(One Jew to another in an old movie: “Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, good wine, law and order, irrigation, roads, fresh-water system, public health, and world peace, what have the Romans ever done for us?”)

     Jesus, of course, had a different kind of kingdom in mind, as he would make clear time and again throughout his ministry.  “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said to Pilate at the end, and he had been saying that same thing in a hundred different ways all along.  But even at that, there were many who were not interested, preferring to get what they could in the here and now, rather than putting faith in invisible promises of whatever might come after death.

     In time, the difference between the kingdom of the here and now and the kingdom of heaven became clear.  It will always become clear at the end of one’s life when the kingdom of the ‘here and now’ comes to an end; as in Jesus parable of the man whose barns were full, and who was ready to enjoy life.  “You fool,” God said to him, “this very night your soul is required of you,” and the man died.  Empires also die, and as the Roman Empire and its glory began to fade, the eternal kingdom that Jesus proclaimed began to look more appealing; and as the Kingdom of Rome crumbled, the Kingdom of Jesus grew.  When the Apostle Paul was proclaiming that Kingdom of Jesus he said, “Therefore, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

     “The time has come,” Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news.”

     Next, there was the call of Jesus to respond to that message.  Here also, there are only a few words recorded.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  And the men left their nets and their father and followed Jesus.

     What is most remarkable about these few words is that we are reading them at all.  All we have here is a brief bit of a conversation, that took place a long time ago, on the other side of the world.  Jesus, a man so poor that he once said he had no place to lay his head at night, is talking to four men who owned businesses, and he challenges them to follow him.  Think of how amazing it is that hundreds of millions of people all over the world get up early every Sunday morning to go to church and hear about conversations like this that took place in the remote past.  It is astonishing to think that this conversation even has anything to do with us.  But when I hear Jesus say “Follow me,” I believe that he is speaking to me also.

     In an old hymn we sing, “In our joys and in our sorrows, days of toil and days of ease, Still he calls us, in cares and pleasure, ‘Christian love me more than these.’”  STILL–now, yet, today, Jesus calls us.  He calls us into that other kingdom: first of all, to believe in Jesus; and then to follow him, to obey him, and to live our lives following his example and by his words.  (continued…)

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Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits Thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester,  (1197-1253)

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