top of page

Mark 1:14-20

John’s ministry has come to a close. John has prepared the way for Jesus, but his time of preparation is over. Now Jesus is taking the first steps to begin his ministry in earnest. Jesus does so by proclaiming “the Kingdom of God is near.” The Kingdom of God refers to the authority and kingship of God. God’s kingdom inhabits wherever God reigns on earth or in the heavens. Since Jesus is fully God, in Jesus’ own presence, God’s kingdom, has indeed come near. Jesus is bringing the Kingdom with him wherever he goes, not only in and through his teachings, but with his very life. 

Although both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ teachings reference the Kingdom of God, the message of salvation in the Kingdom of God is one thing which separates them. John called for repentance. Jesus, in all he is and teaches, brings the fullness salvation with him. Jesus calls not only for repentance but for trust to be placed in the good news of the gospel. Jesus proclaims salvation is impossible without repentance and belief.

The message which Jesus gives here is called, “the good news.” I am always intrigued when the Gospels refer to the teachings and the message of Jesus as the “good news.” When I was growing up in the Church, the message which I was often given was one I would be hard pressed to call the “good news.” There was a lot of talk about how our culture was diverging from the ways of God. I heard about the don’ts of Christian living. And I was presented with what sometimes felt like a chore list of things I needed to do. In truth none of the things I was taught were incorrect per se. Yet as a person seeking to follow Jesus, it did not always sound like good news.

How do we, as preachers and teachers in the church present the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus Christ in such a way that it will challenge those who are listening and yet still be heard as good news? How do we preach in such a way that we join Jesus in saying both, “change your hearts and lives” (as the CEB translates it), and “believe in the good news?” After all the “good news” of Jesus Christ is not good new meant just for some, or a chosen few, but the good news is for everyone and should be presented in such as way that it is heard as “good news.”

As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he begins to call the twelve. He does this using the iconic phrase, “Follow me. . .” These events are described by Mark so succinctly that is it easy to miss all that is going on in these few short verses. Jesus’ calling of the disciples, hearkens back to all the Old Testament call narratives. Jesus calling the disciples is reflective of the call narratives of people, such as Abraham, Moses, or Jeremiah. God spoke to all of them and called them into service. Jesus is the voice of God calling others to listen, to obey, to follow. These disciples are called, just as the prophets of old who came before them had been.

One thing, which is interesting here in this passage, is how Jesus uses fishing imagery. The primary metaphor, Jesus utilizes as he is calling these men, is that the hook and the net, both familiar tools of the trade for these men who lived and worked along the Sea of Galilee. But the way Jesus weaves this metaphor would have been quite surprising to them. Throughout the Old Testament metaphors such as this are not used to express positive ideas. Fishing imagery was the imagery of entrapment, of being ensnared or enslavement (2 King 18-19 or 2 Chronicles 33). In Amos chapter 4, it was with hook and net that the Israelites are depicted as being taken off into exile. Yet, when Jesus calls the disciples he flips the imagery on its head. Instead of fishing being symbol of captivity and exile, here it becomes the imagery of salvation. The image of the disciples being called to fish for people is so powerful that it continues to be one of the main metaphors used when we speak of drawing others into relationship with Jesus Christ. We all see ourselves as being called to be fishers for the sake of the gospel.

Another aspect of this concise call narrative is that Jesus’ calls for these men to leave their families — something which would have been completely out of the norm. It is common for people in our culture to move a fair distance from their families. And it is not at all uncommon for people pick up and move clear across the country to a place where they do not know anyone, and where no one knows them. This is, perhaps, made even more commonplace in our minds as pastors and preachers, precisely because the call to leave our families and the places we know, so we can minister to the people to whom God calls us, is the call, which so many of us have answered.

Families, at this time were much more interdependent. This mobile lifestyle, which so many of us are accustomed, was not the way of things for these people whom Jesus called. It was a radical thing to not only leave your family but to leave everything and everyone you have ever known. It would have been ludicrous to do so at the beckoning of a stranger. It makes me wonder what these men saw in Jesus in this moment, which incited them to do something so counter cultural? In our interactions with Christ, do we ever catch a glimpse of the Jesus who was present in this moment? Have we ever been compelled to move, to go, and to give up as much as these men did? What do we see and hear when Jesus calls to us?

As I see it there are several places we as preachers can go with this passage. We can focus on the “good news.” We can explore with our congregations what really is “good news”. What it is to which we are called to turn and believe? What kind of heart and life changes are we making that bring freedom and salvation in believing? How do we as people of God truly hear and see the teachings of Jesus as good news for us today, which brings salvation?

We can unpack what it means for the Kingdom of God to be made near in the teachings and personage of Jesus Christ. How is the kingdom near? What does it mean for us today for the kingdom to be near in Jesus Christ? How do we live as if the kingdom continues to be near? What does it mean for the Kingdom of God be manifested in the gathered body of Christ?

There is also much we can delve into when it comes to Jesus taking an Old Testament metaphor of entrapment and captivity and turning it upside down (as Jesus is so wont to do) making it instead a metaphor for freedom and salvation. In what ways is the gospel presented so that it feels like the hook of captivity? How do we become fishers of people who come with the “good news” of the gospel, drawing people in with nets that offer salvation instead of captivity? We can also explore what it truly means to be called by Jesus. Perhaps as preachers we could compare the call narrative here with one of those found in the Old Testament. To what are we called? And what is it we need to give up? In what ways is Jesus’ call on our life a radical call, which goes again the grain and the norms of our culture?