HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Sometimes it seems to me that the Gospel Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are arranged in a system of point and counterpoint. One week’s proclamation may be echoed in the following week’s Gospel, but also a different account of events may be given from one Sunday to the next. The Synoptic Gospels, of which Mark’s is the earliest, do not agree with the Gospel of John, which is the last of the Gospels composed, This is especially true with regard to the account of the calling of the disciples.
Last Sunday we heard John’s account of the calling of the disciples. The first two disciples follow Jesus after John says to them when Jesus walks by: “Behold the Lamb of God!” They follow Jesus to the place he is staying. One of them is Andrew, the brother of Simon. The other we suspect is probably John, the son of Zebedee. He is the witness, but is not named. This is characteristic of the Gospel of John- he who witnesses events does not step forward and give himself a name.
Andrew finds his brother Simon, tells him he has found the Messiah and brings him to Jesus, who tells him he will be called Cephas, rock in Aramaic, which is Petros in Latin.
The following day Jesus decides to go to Galilee-he finds Philip and says “follow me”. Philip in turn finds Nathanael, and brings him to Jesus. What we can deduce is that Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathanael are on the banks of the Jordan. We know that Andrew and John are disciples of John’s. What about the other three? Andrew Peter and John are from Bethsaida on the shores of Galilee. They are fishermen. What are they doing on the banks of the Jordan- probably working and witnessing with John the Baptist. We don´t know what Philip or Nathanael did before joining Jesus, but we have to surmise that they too were following John the Baptist. Philip we are told is from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And if all these men are following John or at least listening to his teachings, I think we can surmise that if they have livelihoods or families, that they have made provision for them.
Jesus according to John’s narrative sets out for Galilee with five disciples or followers. In Mark’s Gospel he comes to Galilee in the wake of the arrest of John the Baptist. He comes 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”. There is no mention of any followers. As he passes along the shores of the Sea of Galilee he sees Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea. He says to them “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”. There is an immediate response, just as there is in John’s narrative from those called-they drop everything they are doing to follow Jesus. As Jesus walks on a bit further, he finds James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in their boat, mending nets. “Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” Again we witness an instantaneous response to Jesus’ call.
What will become of Simon and Andrew’s nets? We are not told, although in the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law recounted in Mark 1:29-30, we know that Simon is married. There is a family we can assume, and we have to surmise that someone took over the job of fishing and of providing for the family. As for the nets and boat of James and John, the boat is fairly large-it accommodates them, their father, and the hired men, so when they leave to follow Jesus, their father and his hired men are there to continue the business.
If you came upon Jesus at the Mall or at Pricesmart, and he said: “Follow me”, would you drop everything and follow him? What about lunch? What about the engagements you might have that day? What are you going to tell your wife, your husband, your children, your bridge group, or your friends? How can you just drop everything to follow him? Sadly neither you nor I can realistically follow Jesus with the simplicity and single mindedness with which Andrew, John, Simon, Philip and Nathanael in John’s Gospel, or Simon, Andrew, James and John in Mark’s narration, answered Jesus’ call.
Before we start feeling really bad about the inadequacy of our response to Jesus’ call, I think it’s fair to ask: Is Jesus calling all of us to be like his twelve disciples? That is not Jesus’ message to his listeners. His message is a simpler one: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news”. The command to follow him absolutely is for those who are able to respond completely. For the rest of us, we are to know that the time is fulfilled: God has sent his only begotten son to live among us. The heavens have been torn open. The kingdom of God is not a remote abstraction anymore, rather it is something near, a state in which the love of God is near at hand and available to us.
Something is required of us, though, and that is repentance. We are called upon to put sin and its attendant vices away, and to repent. We are also called to believe in the good news, which is found in Jesus’ teachings, in his ministry of healing and compassion. Certainly we can each of us do something to bring the kingdom of heaven nearer, and to follow Jesus by being compassionate and healers in our dealings with those around us. This is asked of us, not under any threat of hellfire and damnation, but out of the love that God has for each and every one of us. If we are loved, are we not called to love back? I leave you with that thought.