Year B Epiphany 3 Mark 1 2012
The Adventure of Discipleship
Today's Gospel is about Jesus' calling of his first four disciples. It is about the first people who were called to hold the job which we hold today. Mark's story is not very elaborate. It is short and to the point. There is a certain note of adventure as the four men leave their fishing business to go with Jesus, but there is not much in the story that seems terribly upsetting.
What the story doesn't tell about is what those men were getting in for by becoming followers of Jesus. To find out what was really in store for them, we have to keep reading. And what we discover is that being a disciple was not glamorous. In fact, it was downright dangerous.
Later in Mark we hear Jesus say, "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it." Matthew includes another comment: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Those are disturbing statements, especially for those of us who are today's disciples.
He was saying that being his disciple is not an easy task. He was saying that the gospel is a disturbing force in the world which can upset individuals and nations alike. It brings change and new experiences to all who hear it. Being his disciple will not be easy because the task of the disciple is to be the bearer of this revolutionary gospel message.
We know what happened to Jesus. His message disturbed those in power and they tried to silence him. Of the four men in this gospel text, three were also executed for their witness. The powers that ruled the ancient world were upset by the gospel, and they tried to silence its voices. I'd like to be able to say that's all ancient history, but there are still governments today which oppose the gospel.
It is important for us to realize that the truth of the gospel is like a two-edged sword: it is both comforting and disturbing. The messengers of this gospel may find themselves similarly regarded by those who don't want to hear that message, even in countries where Christianity is protected by law.
Jesus' two-edged sword also strikes close to home...
Are You Better at Wearing or Bearing Crosses?
How would you describe a color to someone who had been blind since birth?
What can you say about "blue" or "red" or "green" to someone who has no concept of color, of bright, light, or dark?
Well, you would almost have to use examples from the sense the blind person did have - touch, scent, sound, taste.
Blue is "cold" compared to a "hot" red.
Green is smooth and sweet, while yellow is sharp and pungent.
Purple has the depth of a bruise.
Orange may not rhyme with anything, but is feels like the sun on your face on a warm day.
Explaining the impossible to the unknowing describes much of the mission and message of Jesus.
How could he communicate the vastness of divine love to individual human hearts?
How could he present the fullness of time to a world parsed into days, hours, minutes, seconds?
How could he reveal the unity of all creation to warring nations, cracked communities, and fractured families?
To get his message across Jesus clothed the utterly unique work of God through Christ in language that seemed deceptively familiar. Jesus' preaching and teaching was all about "the kingdom of God." The first-century world understood the concept of "kingship" all too well. The nations of the world were ruled by kings, and kings were absolute authority figures with unquestioned control over their subjects. The Old Testament refers to the kingship of God more than any other divine quality. Israel was God's first kingdom, but in an eschatological future all the nations would recognize God's ruling status and bow down before him.
So when Jesus spoke of the "kingdom of God' his audience, especially the Torah-learned Jews, thought they knew what he was talking about.
Surprise. They didn't.
Jesus was not talking about establishing a place with borders, a kind of divine fiefdom. The kingdom of God wasn't a political polis or an eschatological, pie-in-the-sky, far-and-away dreamscape...