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Epiphany 3B Gospel

Jesse Middendorf

The Gospel of Mark marches to its own beat. The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are omitted, and there is no majestic Prologue as is found in the Gospel of John. Mark simply introduces Jesus as “the Messiah” and declares Him to be “the Son of God.” Then Mark briefly describes the ministry of John the Baptist, concluding with his baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is covered in two brief verses, and then Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee.

John is quickly out of the picture, and the focus of the remainder of the Gospel is on the ministry of Jesus. It begins with a message which, though similar to the message of John the Baptist, carries a much greater authority: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”

For centuries the Jewish people had anticipated the arrival of their Messiah. The visions and dreams of the prophets had carried them through many crises, through exile, through oppression and military occupation. Now, with the ministry of the apocalyptic prophet John, the fervent anticipation of the coming of “the Messiah” was rekindled.

When Jesus began his ministry preaching about “the Kingdom of God” coming near, for some, the faint voice of the old prophets was heard again. But the very nature of his message began to intrude into their expectations, unsettling them, and causing both faint hope and uncertain skepticism.

What did repentance have to do with the Kingdom of God? Where were the advancing troops, the shrill voices of religious zealots who would give vent to their hatred of the Roman occupiers? Instead, Jesus came preaching! Preaching, of all things.

It is important that the first thirteen verses of Mark are not overlooked. The beginning of the ministry of Jesus was not a departure from what Mark insists had been going on in the ministry of John the Baptist. The long-anticipated fulfillment of the prophetic promises was indeed underway. John was “the voice.” The time had come. The “kairos” of God had arrived, and the message was pointed and direct: this Kingdom was unlike any other ever conceived in human minds. This one begins in repentance, in confession of sins, and in the stark humility of baptism. Obviously this Kingdom called for submission to a different kind of objective, one that armies, governments, and economies could never understand or accomplish. What this Kingdom required was not a change in kings or emperors. It required a change in the hearts of people.

This seems so impotent to those who believe that “might makes right.” When empires demand loyalty and enforce their authority through armies and taxes, Jesus, like John, called for transformation of the people, a turning around and away from old patterns and habits.

And people responded. The amazing story of the calling of the first four disciples, sometimes bit hard to appreciate because it is so bare and without texture, is intended to convey a reality we must not overlook: this is the Messiah speaking. This is the Son of God calling fishermen to walk with him.

We might have expected that if Jesus were indeed all that Mark says of him in the first verse of this gospel he had little to no need of fishermen; of lowly, common, village people. But Mark, in a sparse and fast moving account of the life and ministry of Jesus, put enough value on the calling of these four men that he gives each pair of brothers its own attention.

Mark gives us no indication that there had been prior contact with the fishermen. However, it may not be out of the realm of the possible that these five men had talked before. All were residents of Galilee. Capernaum, to which Jesus had moved at some point, was not a large city. There were homes near the waterfront, and there was a synagogue where Jesus had at some point been in attendance. And it is altogether possible that young men, as they grew, had come to know one another. Perhaps they had even shared dreams and hopes for the future.

While Mark makes no mention of his growing years, no suggestion that he “grew in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and people,” it may not be wrong to assume that the dreams of Jesus were at least as important to his friends as were the dreams of his friends to him.

Mark gives us no clue as to why, but when Jesus called, after preaching about the Kingdom of God, these men, with boats, families, and hired help, left it all, and “immediately” followed Jesus.

It must not be missed on us that there was something so compelling about this man that men with every reason to believe that their futures were secure, left everything. They followed Jesus, obviously with many unanswered questions, and with no guarantees as to what lay ahead. There were times when they were confused, and times when they were fearful. They followed for three years, even up to the last hours of his life.

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves the question: what am I willing to leave behind in order to follow Jesus. How insistent am I that I can “work him into my life,” rather than forsaking every other loyalty and security in order to follow him?

According to Mark, this is probably a good place to begin!

Jesse Middendorf

About the Contributor

General Superintendent Emeritus, Church of the Nazarene