The Rev Cynthia K R Banks; Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Year B; Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
Is anybody else in awe of Simon and Andrew, James and John? I mean, really. We’re only at verse 14 of Mark’s gospel, and the only thing that Jesus has done so far is make a pronouncement: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Look around—people make pronouncements all the time. Words. Words. Words. So, Jesus is passing along the Sea of Galilee, and he sees Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea because they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Promises. Promises. Lots of people make promises. But the text tells us, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Jesus goes a little father, and he sees James and John. Now, they were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately Jesus called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Why? Why do they immediately leave the life they’ve known for a life they know nothing about? What on earth could compel them to do that? Words, promises. That particular season of time in Israel’s history was full of words and promises. The Zealots had a vision. The Jerusalem elite had a vision. The Pharisees and scribes and Sadducees and lawyers had a vision. The Romans had a vision. Lots of people, lots of words, lots of promises, lots of visions.
So, why follow this particular man who spoke these particular words who made this particular promise? Well, he was different. He didn’t speak of his vision; he spoke about something fuller, bigger. He didn’t seem to be tied to this time, our time, chronos time; he was rooted and grounded in kairos, God’s time. He spoke about a fullness of time, pleroma, a moment so full of possibility as to defy what should be possible. He spoke of a kingdom, but it was a realm of a whole different order. It was a time and space infused with God. And he was daring to say that what everyone else thought was so far away, well, he dared to say that it was close, as close as your breath, as close as the image you see when you look in your neighbor’s eyes.
Wait a minute, this isn’t what we have been taught. God is far away. God’s kingdom is in the next life. Wait a minute, you’re saying that this all has something to do with this life??? For those hearing these words, they’ve got to be thinking, “Jesus, man, you are blowing my mind.” And then comes that great, great word—“repent”—“metanoia”—change your mind, get a new mind, go beyond your mind and believe, trust, lean into the good news of God. Not with your head. Don’t believe with your head. This isn’t about assent to a set of intellectual propositions; this is about daring to let your heart trust the good news of God. What good news? The good news that you are beloved of God. The good news that God longs for your wholeness, and your wholeness, and your wholeness, and the wholeness of all creation. The good news that nothing lies outside the realm of God; it is near, and it is here; as Richard Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”
But still, what compelled these fishermen to follow, and not just to enter into a prolonged process of discernment (which is what most of us do, and certainly what our church does, with call)? What compelled them to leave their nets immediately and follow him, no questions asked? I think it was something about his presence. Something in his recognition of them as fishermen, something in the way he blessed the essence of who they were at the core, and how he could see in them a something more, a something fuller, a something that they had never seen in themselves, a something that would be in complete continuity with all that they had been but also a something that would connect them so much more deeply with the whole human family.
If they fished for fish, now they would fish for people. If they mended nets, now they would be mending people. Binding up the brokenhearted. Proclaiming liberty to the captives. Recovery of sight to the blind. In a world of really, really bad news, they would be helping people to see and claim and internalize the good news of God’s love and solidarity, not in some abstract way, but in the grit and struggle and majesty of their very lives.
Something in him told something in them, “You don’t want to miss this. This is a life you don’t want to miss.” And when you’re young, you are all about taking that kind of risk. But those of us who aren’t so young anymore…can we imagine letting our hearts leap like that? Do we think we’ve invested too much in life as we know it to imagine following Jesus into a life without our safety net? Can we trust that the good news of which he speaks will carry us if we leave the tricks of our trade behind? Oh, it all sounds so risky. We might think, “I know how to navigate this sea, even when the storms come up. I don’t have any idea how I will do in new waters; I don’t know how I will do as a “follower”; I much prefer to call the shots, to be in charge, to maintain control, thank you very much. I don’t know about “following,” even following Jesus.” But something in him is speaking to something in us. I think we’re just gonna have to go, and let it unfold before us.
And if you’re reluctant, as I sometimes am, take heart. For all of the “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ” from the collect we prayed earlier, for all of the Simon and Andrew, James and Johns immediately answering the call, for everyone one of those who leap up to follow, there’s a Jonah headed for Tarshish.
It is no accident that the church pairs this Mark passage with this Jonah passage. Let us not forget that this is the second time the word of the LORD came to Jonah. Let us not forget that his full embrace of his prophetic task to speak that which God wanted spoken only came after fleeing in the opposite direction, lying, being cast over the side of the ship in a raging storm, being swallowed by a really big fish and spending three days in a really gross belly of a really big fish, culminating in being spewed up on the dry land. Then, Jonah was willing to say “yes”, but even then, he answers the call with a teeny bit of resentment still festering over how incredibly gracious and compassionate and merciful God really is.
For every Simon, Andrew, James, and John who lives inside of us eager to say “yes”, there is also a Jonah who will drag their feet all the way to Tarshish to avoid saying “yes.” Sometimes, our “yes” comes before its even registered what we’ve said “yes” to, and sometimes, we have to fight our way to “yes,” and we come kicking and screaming.
The point is we are bent toward “yes” when it comes to God.
Oh, we may try to avoid it for a while, but God can way outwait us. God is persistent. God is compelling. God is an expert woo-er. God is determined that we experience the good news of salvation, of being found when we feel lost, of being made whole when we feel fragmented, of being caught up in a net, not of our own making and mending, but of God’s love and compassion that can hold us even when the bottom falls out.
Today is about “call”, but even more, it’s about saying “yes” with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our spirit, with our flesh and blood, feet of clay, self.
So, as you sit in your boat, in your life, doing what you know to do, let yourself be seen by Jesus. Let him call you in the depth of who you are, not in spite of it. He is calling for you to follow him, and he will show you how the road from here with him will be in continuity with who God has made you to be up until now. And this is really important. God calls you as the unique, precisely you that you are. Whatever your job, your vocation, God calls you within that, not apart from that, not in spite of that. Nothing is wasted, ever. My crazy attention to detail that I honed as an accountant, God took that gift and transformed it into an attention to detail in the text that enables me to see things in the Bible that might otherwise be overlooked. Everything in us can be taken and shaped to a holy and lifegiving end.
Repentance. How will you need to repent, how will you need to change your mind, enlarge your mind, go beyond your mind, to follow him? What will you need to relinquish to trust that the good news of which Jesus speaks is good news for you?
And if your journey is more in the Jonah style, can you pause long enough to ask, Why am I fleeing the “yes”? Can you trust that even your detours can eventually land you where you need to be, even if your head is rebelling? Sometimes, we need to encounter the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy, in spite of ourselves, to get to the depth of God’s “yes” to us and to get to the deep “yes” that we long to say in return.
We never hear how old Jonah fares with his resentment. Does he cling to his judgments? Or does he let his heart melt at the transformation that is possible when we lean into God’s good news? Jonah may be duking it out with God still, but you and I, we can soften into grace and mercy—what is keeping us from following God there, immediately? What net is snaring us, keeping us from feeling our innate connection with our brothers and sisters (even the evil ones), and can we leave that net behind for the more abundant life that Jesus promises?
Saying “yes”—it sounds so simple, and yet it’s so hard. It sounds so once-and-for-all, and yet, it’s a “yes” we have to say over and over again, daily, choice by choice.
This is God’s time; there’s a fullness to this moment; God is so very near.
If your mind is in the way, give it a nod, acknowledge its anxiety and hesitancy, but, as they say, “Don’t give it the keys to the car.” Drop down below the mind, let that something in him speak to that something deep in you. And then leave your nets behind and follow him. You’ll never fully understand it, but your heart won’t rest until you say “yes.” Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
January 25, 2015