Reflections on Mark 1:14-20

[This reflection is an edited excerpt from this sermon on Matthew 4:18-22.]

Think, for a minute, about a time in the past few days that you were at work–your job work or working on some project or responsibility. You are grading papers or standing in front of a class full of kids. You are making lunch for your own kids or cleaning your house. You are making phone calls or painting a wall or weeding the garden or cataloging books. Whatever work you did this past week, imagine yourself doing it. . . .

Now imagine an interruption. The phone rings. A child needs a form signed. Your boss wants to talk to you for a minute. What does your interruption look like? . . . How does it make you feel? . . .

I’ll tell you how interruptions make me feel–grumpy! In fact, I’m trying to discipline myself to not do certain types of work in the evenings because I get so grumpy when I’m interrupted. And, of course, with three kids in the house, I can count on interruptions. If I am typing up a particularly profound blog entry or crafting a spiritually enlightened sermon point, I might snap at the needy child to “wait just a minute, can’t you see I’m trying to share the Good News of Jesus here?”. If my child is bleeding, I might stop typing–but you better believe I hit “save” before I get the bandaid.

One thing I rarely do is willingly abandon my work. Not when I’m right in the middle of something. Not just because someone else wants my attention.

Yet Peter and Andrew, James and John all quit their work to follow Jesus–just because he asks. They don’t dismiss Jesus with an irritated excuse–the way I’m likely to talk to the Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Well, I’d love to chat about exactly how many people will get into heaven, but I’m just about to haul in this big load of fish, so I can’t really talk right now. You can leave your pamphlet right there on that rock. I’ll take a look later.”

These guys don’t take a brief time-out to talk to Jesus, all the while glancing back towards the net, the boat, the booth. “O.K. Man. I’ve got like three minutes. What do you need? What’s so important?”

They don’t even say, “Look, Jesus, just let me give my two weeks’ notice and I’ll catch up with you down the road.”

“Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Here’s one of my questions: Why did they have to leave their nets? They had to eat on the road, right? Jesus was always hanging out in fishing villages, so they could have taken their nets along, used their skills to catch fish and feed all the disciples. They could even have used the net to haul the lame people to Jesus or to help build a shelter on rainy nights or . . . I don’t know. It just seems like a net could be useful.

Isn’t it enough that Peter and Andrew follow Jesus in the first place? Why do they have to leave their nets?

The most troubling aspect of these stories, though, is that James and John don’t just leave their nets –they leave their dad. They leave him sitting there in the boat with the half-mended nets. As you might imagine, a half-mended net is no better than no net at all when it comes to catching fish. The boys leave their dad in the lurch; put the family business in jeopardy. For what? To follow some itinerant rabbi they just met. How’s that for family values?

I mean, I see how all of these guys could think that following Jesus would be a fun adventure–an interesting side trip. Definitely something different. Good stories for the grandkids someday. I get the appeal of taking on something new.

It’s the giving up–the walking away–that strikes me as hard. Really almost unfair.

It’s always hard to know how we would act in certain, hypothetical, situations. So I can’t say for sure. But I think that if Jesus had called me–once I got over my initial irritation at being interrupted; once I finished up the paragraph I was typing and saved the document; once I checked a couple of references to make sure the guy wasn’t a total nut job–I think I would have been willing to follow him. But the nets, the cash, the dad–they would be coming with me.

It’s not just that I would want to take along my stuff. I’m actually a pretty light packer. I wouldn’t need my curling iron or my waffle maker or even, I suppose, my art supplies. But my Facebook account and my saved documents; my cell phone and a paper pad and pencil. My Bible and my family and the church directory.

Peter and Andrew, James and John don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their most comfortable identities–the work and family relationships that give them value in the eyes of society and, probably, in their own eyes as well. They go from fishermen to “fishers of people,”–followers of Jesus–whatever that is!

I tend to skip over the word “immediately” in Mark because it is used so often. Everything happens “immediately” in this Gospel. But perhaps it is worth paying attention in this case: “Immediately they left their nets.” So hard. Really almost unfair.

“Immediately they left their nets.”

Maybe “immediately” is the only way any of us can ever do it.

Talking, Listening, Following

This week my had has been full of sinus drainage, leaving little room for deep, blog-worthy thoughts. Plus, during those precious moments I have been able to escape the demands of work and family . . . I have been sleeping instead of writing.

But hey, there have been weeks–thankfully many of them–when I did not blow my body weight in snot out my nose. And during those weeks, I have written things that I think make some sense. So, considering my inability to be coherent this week, I link you to some previous writings.

Sermon Snippet: Calling the Disciples

So here’s the part of yesterday’s sermon that is most compelling for me.  The texts are Matthew 4:18-22 and 9:9; you can read the whole thing here.

* * * * * * *

Peter and Andrew, James and John and Matthew don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their most comfortable identities–the work and family relationships that give them value in the eyes of society and, probably, in their own eyes as well. They don’t just leave behind stuff, they leave behind their identities. They go from fisherman or tax collector to, “fisher of people,” follower of Jesus–whatever that is!

And there is something else that the new disciples must leave behind–there on the lake shore, there at the tax booth. It is something that is not obvious at first. Something I never thought of at all until I came across a fascinating article this week by K.C. Hanson titled, “The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition.”

Here’s the pertinent information: “Fishermen received capitalization along with fishing rights, and were therefore indebted to local brokers responsible for the harbors and for fishing leases. The location of [Matthew’s] toll office in Capernaum—an important fishing locale—probably identifies him as just such a contractor of royal fishing rights.”

This means that Matthew could have been the tax collector who took the exorbitant government fees from Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Matthew could have been the tax collector that overcharged them so he could have a nice paycheck for himself.

Regardless of whether Matthew was the tax collector, he definitely was a tax collector and therefore represented the most intimate form of Roman oppression that the fishermen experienced; he represented the system that kept them scrambling for a living while they were forced to help provide the means for others to live in luxury.

There is Matthew, at his tax booth. Imagine what Peter and the rest must have thought when they noticed that Jesus was approaching the booth. When they saw that Jesus was about to say something to the tax collector. They were probably pretty excited, mischievous gleams in their eyes.

“Ahhh, look,” they would say to each other, “Jesus is gonna let that tax collector have it! He’s gonna go tell him that Jews have no business sucking up to Rome, making money off of their own people, living in luxury while we practically starve. He’s gonna turn over that table and tell him where he can stick all those denarius. Jesus is gonna march right up to that tax collector and say–“

“Follow me.”

That is not what they expected Jesus to say.

And then that tax collector left his tax booth and joined them all as they followed Jesus down the streets of Capernum.

That is not what they expected the tax collector to do.

Yes, the fishermen leave behind their nets. Yes, Matthew leaves behind his booth. They also find they must leave behind their prejudices, their expectations about other people, and even their expectations about Jesus.

Post-Easter Sestina

Reading the Bible and writing poetry in a quiet house.  Life is good today.

Thank you for your words for my sestina.  The poem I wrote is below.  If you’ve written one, I’d love to see it!  You can send it to me via the “Contact” page–and let me know if I am allowed to post it.

Of Fish and Fear and Resurrection: A Sestina

The tomb stands there, smelling of flesh,
but the entrance—or exit, I guess, since something obviously left–
is no longer blocked by the stone.
It is clear something fishy
is going on—especially when the glowing men appear
and insist: “Do not be afraid.”

Which is a sure sign that fear
is justified. Goosebumps prickle the women’s flesh,
sweat pours from their palms, and they try to appear
calm as they turn and leave
the graveyard to find the fishermen,
the tax collector, and the rest of the guys to tell them about the stone.

The one supposed to be sealing the tomb. That stone.
The guys are curious and confused and mostly afraid.
Peter and Andrew were really hoping they could get back to fishing
since it turned out Jesus was just flesh
and blood after all; since Jesus was dead now the authorities could leave
them all alone. But apparently

things were not back to normal yet—with the appearance
of these hysterical women and their story of the stone.
Why couldn’t people just leave
well enough alone? Now rumors swirl and the fear
returns. The disciples gather and flesh
out a plan—basically they will lock all the doors and eat their fish

in peace. It works for a few hours, everyone blithely chewing fish
and checking the locks. Then, despite their precautions, Jesus appears
and shows them where the nails ripped into the flesh
of his palms. Jesus is there. They are all stone
cold sober. A new kind of fear
settles in—a nagging sense that won’t leave

them alone. A realization that they must believe.
Only they don’t know what to believe. So they go out to fish.
That’s not going so well and they’re afraid
supper will be meager until a stranger appears
on the shore, just a stone’s
throw away. His friendly greeting makes their flesh

crawl. But they do what he says and fish suddenly appear,
leaving little doubt about who the stranger is as they haul in the net, heavier than the stone.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Yet there he stands—in the flesh.