Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
January 22, 2012
Mark 1:14-20 • Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, 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.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
So, has he asked you guys yet?
Jesus. The new rabbi from Nazareth. Has he asked you guys to be his disciples yet? It seems like he’s been going all over the place recruiting. I’m surprised he’s missed you. Doesn’t seem to be terribly discriminating in who he picks. No, don’t take that the wrong way; I’m just saying that he seems to be keen on picking folks from the working class. Fishermen and such.
If you haven’t heard, this Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee, right? And Simon and Andrew are out there fishing and he just calls to them saying, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of people.” Yeah, it’s a great line. They must have heard about him before or something because without any wait, they just drop their nets and follow after him. And then, he goes along and sees James and John—you know, Zebedee’s boys—and he calls out to them and they follow him too, leaving poor old Zebedee just sitting there in the boat. So, new rabbi’s in town and the first four disciples he takes are fishermen? Seriously, where do we get these rabbis from? What’s next? Shepherds?
But honestly, I don’t know what this man is thinking. It’s a bad time to be in the prophet business. You heard what happened to John the Baptist, haven’t you? Well, you know how John’s been a critic of Herod Antipas—I mean, who isn’t? but you didn’t hear me say that. So, remember when Herod married his brother Philip’s wife and we were all like ‘awkward’. But you know how these royals are, they don’t care about middle class morality.
Well, John the Baptist was infuriated. I guess he figures as long as they’re going to claim to be kings for the Jews they ought to keep Jewish law. You can imagine how that went. They arrested him. Handed him right over. Mostly because of the new Mrs. Herod. She didn’t appreciate John going around reminding the public that the king and queen were in violation of the Torah.
And then, it gets worse. So, Herod’s throwing a big party for his friends and his daughter Herodias comes in and dances and Herod and all his guests are really pleased. Herod’s so pleased that the old fool—I mean, his royal highness—tells her he’ll give her whatever she wants, even half his kingdom.
So she asks her mother what she should ask for and her mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist. It’s not the usual wages for a dance routine, but Mrs. Herod clearly has an agenda here. Herod’s in a tight spot because he’s promised her in front of everyone. So he has John the Baptist beheaded and brings his head to Herodias on a platter. No, I’m not making that up.
So, anyway, this seems like a bad time to get into the prophet business. The king is no joke and he doesn’t take kindly to people disturbing the peace, like poor John. I mean, you remember how we got these clowns in power, right? Remember how our grandparents used to talk about this? Back when John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus both wanted to be king and they each send a delegation to Rome looking for their support? That’s mistake number one, right there, if you ask me. You invite the Romans in and they don’t leave. Of course, the Romans wanted neither Hyrcanus nor Aristobulus and that’s when they picked their own guy, Herod the Great. I mean, I’m not gonna knock Herod, other than that weird episode like 30 years ago where he had all the kids under two years old killed in Bethlehem, he did alright for us, I suppose. Kept us kinda sorta independent. Really improved the Temple down in Jerusalem.
But after he dies and the divide up his kingdom among his sons, our very own Herod Antipas winds up in charge of Galilee. Of course, look at what happened in Judea—there the Romans just took over direct control after Archimaeus dies. So, at least we have our own guy—even if he is a crook. But you didn’t hear me say that.
See, I guess what I’m saying is that all these guys know that their power is all dependent on the Romans. Herod Antipas knows that. Those corrupt Sadducee priests down in Jerusalem in the Temple know that. What, you think those guys care about religion? No—it’s all politics, man. That’s all. Same with Herod Antipas. He probably wouldn’t really have cared about John the Baptist—I heard he even liked to hear him preach—because we’re all Jews, we know what the deal with prophets is. The Romans don’t get it though. It looks an awful lot like sedition to them. I imagine if Mrs. Herod hadn’t demanded John’s arrest, the Romans eventually would have.
So, I don’t know what this Jesus is thinking. Going around preaching, “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.” You know, I would chalk it all up to bad timing, except for one thing: he started his little project after they arrested John the Baptist. It’d be one thing if he’d given up his carpentry business to become a rabbi a while ago. Every once in a while someone decides to give up a lucrative career to become clergy—it happens. It’s not the brightest decision in the world, but it’s not the worst, I suppose, if that’s what you want to do. So, if he’d just made that kind of decision and then this business with John had happened, that’d be one thing. Could always go back to carpentry. But this Jesus fellow started this after John got arrested. So, he had to know this business was dangerous. Wouldn’t he rather stay in the carpentry business?
Maybe that’s why he’s recruiting from among fishermen—everyone else has too much sense to go along. Well, you know how those fishermen are—going out on the lake at night or when it looks like bad weather. I mean, it’s a good thing he hasn’t asked me yet—I hate saying ‘no’ to people—even if they’re a little misguided.
But what does that say if he knew all about John the Baptist and then started his ministry? I guess he knows what he’s getting himself into. Could it be that he thinks that what he’s doing is so important that he’s willing to risk everything for it?
I mean, I’ve heard that he likes to go around and cast out demons and heal the sick and he has meals with all kinds of disreputable people. That hardly seems like a ministry worth getting beheaded over, does it?
Does he really think that the “Kingdom of God is near”? We’ve been waiting for that one for a long time. Usually, I figure these guys talk about it because there’s something in it for them. Remember Judah the Galilean? He was big on this whole racket but it was clear that he just wanted to be king himself. Didn’t really work out for him, did it? So, unless this Jesus has some kind of angle I can’t figure out, he’s risking an awful lot by preaching this Kingdom of God stuff in exchange for a few meals with fishermen. You know what I mean—people will risk a lot for one of two things: something that’ll make them rich or something that’s really important.
Could it be that preaching about justice for the poor and welcome for the marginalized is really so important that this Jesus is willing to risk his life to proclaim it? Could it be that preaching a message of God’s mercy and power is so important that he’d be willing to risk the anger of Herod Antipas or the Romans by preaching about a Kingdom that’s not that of Herod or Caesar?
Could it be that important? I know what the prophets say. I’ve paid attention in synagogue, same as you. “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” I guess it’s pretty important.
See, what if he’s right? What if God’s reign really is near? What if this world is on the verge of being transformed from this brutal, violent, sinful place to the place the prophets always told us about? What if we were on the verge of something big? That would be pretty important. But how on earth would this Jesus know about it? I mean, he’s from Nazareth for God’s sake. We all know nothing good ever comes from there.
But what if he’s right? What if that time is just around the corner when the “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”?  That would be pretty important, and probably risking a lot for.
Could it be that something that important demands a willingness to take risks? Is that why he’s recruiting fishermen? Because they know risks? I may have been too quick to judge: maybe there’s something here after all.
I know he lives in Capernaum now. (Thank God—it’d be a drag to have to go to Nazareth). I suppose I can go hear him preach at the synagogue some Sabbath. Would you guys like to come along? I’m not saying we should try and become his disciples or anything—it sounds like a lot of work for someone like me. But I don’t know—those fishermen got out of those boats awfully fast—maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe something worth risking everything for.
Yeah, I know. I’m a little worried, too. What if he does ask us to be disciples? Are we ready to take those kinds of risks? To stand up to power? Not to fear the principalities of the world? To stand on the side of the marginalized and the disenfranchised?
I know—I’m getting way ahead of myself. We haven’t even heard the man preach. It’s just… I have this sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be good—and then everything will change.
But anyway, it’s time I got back to work. It was nice talking with you all but these taxes aren’t gonna get collected by themselves. Ha, yeah, I guess you’re right. I hadn’t considered that. I mean, what are the chances he’d want a tax collector as a disciple anyway, right?