1/21/2018 Third Sunday after Epiphany The text is Jonah 3:1-5.10; Mark 1:14-20.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel is about Jesus’ calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John. In Mark, this story isn’t very elaborate. It is short and to the point as Jesus invites these four commercial fishermen to leave everything behind and join in an adventure of a life time.
In Jesus’ time, fishermen on the Lake of Galilee provided an important source of food, not only for Palestine, but also for distant places like Rome. So Peter, Andrew, James and John were probably not wealthy, but they weren’t poor either. For, apparently, they were successful in their businesses as they owned their own boats and used hired help to expand their operation. These were successful businessmen, who had an understanding of the world. And yet, when Jesus invites them to follow him, they don’t look back. They leave everything behind without hesitation.
Popular psychologists counsel those who are weighed down with the worries of the world to get rid of their excess baggage. But Peter and Andrew, James and John didn’t seem to have such a problem when they gave up important stuff like families, homes and jobs in order to follow Jesus. In the end these things which we value highly, would prove to be mere trinkets when compared to what they would ultimately be called to lay down at the foot of the cross.
Perhaps if the fishermen understood this, they would have been as reluctant as Jonah when it came to following the call and doing God’s bidding. Jonah’s eyes were wide open when he was sent by God to the people of Nineveh. Jonah knew these people all too well and he believed that the people of that place were not the kind of people who would listen to God. Jonah knew that by going there to deliver God’s message that he was risking his life. So although he clearly heard the call of the Lord, he was hesitant and decided that he would not, could not follow – not because he was too busy or because he had obligations he couldn’t imagine leaving. He simply was not going to risk his life in this way. So, he intentionally sailed away in opposite direction for he didn’t agree with God’s way and God’s agenda.
Jonah saw the people of Nineveh wallowing in the mud of their disobedience, evil and immorality, and he believed with all his soul that they should be pelted with fire and brimstone, hurled from the hand of God. It’s what they deserved. The evil should be punished and the righteous rewarded. Bad things should happen to bad people and good things should happen to good people. Everybody that Jonah ever lived with, worked with or had lunch with seemed to see the world in this way – everyone, that is, except the God of the universe.
When we accept the invitation to follow – whether we do it immediately, without looking back, like the four fishermen, or whether we do it kicking and screaming all the way like Jonah, we are called to lay down some of our most valuable possessions – our understanding of the world, our view of right and wrong, our assumptions about whom God favors and whom God despises, our ways and our thoughts. We lay these down so we can rejoice in God’s mercy and receive the blessings he gives freely to all people.
Jonah didn’t understand this, even though he received from God the very mercy he was resistant to share with those he was called to serve. For the Jonah drama ends incompletely, yet compassionately, as God consoles the pouting Jonah like a mother explaining the justice of the world to an angry three-year old. Neither Jonah’s resistance and grumpiness, nor his disaster of a sermon could turn aside the river of mercy that was about to rain down on that great city. For in the end, God gets what God wants, and God wants to save.
That was also true with the disciples of Jesus as they discovered that the fishing nets were only the first of the things they were to leave behind for the sake of the gospel. As they travelled and camped around Galilee, they discarded beliefs about the character and the will of God. They cast off their assumptions about God’s mercy, love and justice. Judas, of course, clung to his religious-political beliefs until they became a noose around his neck. But, none of them followed his lead…even if they were anything but perfect in following Jesus. Each of them had “Jonah moments,” resisting the call and questioning God’s agenda. And yet, in spite of all their imperfections, in the end God got what God wanted. In the end, they spread the word that God wants to save.
My friends, God has called each of us. God wants us to lay down our understanding of world, our religious-political agenda, and to spread the word of God’s grace and mercy. As we spread His word into the sea of humanity, may we:
Go where the fish are by being with people on their own turf.
Be real, be vulnerable and be honest.
Be creative as we don’t have to do things the same old way.
Be spiritual, but not “churchy.”
Be ready for surprises!
Be willing to step out of our comfort zones.
Be on the lookout for where God is at work.
And, be praying.
In the end, in spite of all our resistance, all our questioning of our capabilities and responsibilities, may God’s will be done through us. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.