January 24, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
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.
In Mark 1, Jesus states his core message: the kingdom of God has come; repent and believe in this good news. This is an offer he still makes to each and every one of us. And for each and every one of us, the response will be different.
We continue in the season after Epiphany walking through the Gospel lessons that show Jesus’s glory being manifested to all the world. Today, Jesus has begun his public ministry. In Mark this story falls almost right on the heels of the baptism story in Mark 1:1-11; Mark devotes only two verses (1:12-13) to Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, whereas Matthew and Luke give us fuller pictures of that formative experience.
Mark is on to the next thing: fresh from the desert and from the news of John’s arrest, Jesus is calling his disciples. Even that is short and sweet (although, to be fair, it doesn’t vary that much from the story in Matthew—you have to go to Luke for all the personal details.) He finds men going about their daily work of fishing, he tells them that from now on they will fish for people instead, and he goes off to call the next set of followers. And those he calls come immediately, without debate.
Among those of us who are loosely associated with what is called the “faith and work movement,” this story can pose a problem. One of the movement’s core philosophies is that all kinds of work are valuable—the world needs people fishing just as much as it needs people preaching—and that calling to a job or profession does not have to involve a dramatic word from God. Yet here, in this story, Jesus demonstrates calling people dramatically and asking them to leave off fishing and begin preaching. And much later, after the Resurrection, when the apostles consider returning to their former occupation, Jesus will affirm that they ought to keep preaching instead (see John 21).
I think we need to start with this story the other way round, though. At the very beginning of this passage, in Mark 1:14-15, Jesus states his core message: the kingdom of God has come; repent and believe in this good news. This is an offer he still makes to each and every one of us. And for each and every one of us, the response will be different. We do need people, the church has discerned, who focus a large part of their life on the verbal proclamation of the gospel. (For one thing, there were centuries, and there are places, where books were rare or literacy less widespread). Jesus was collecting such people around him so that he could spread his message more quickly and effectively.
But the most important thing is that we repent and believe the good news. Other translations say “repent and believe the gospel,” which is the way I heard it growing up. It’s the same word either way in Greek: εὐαγγέλιον, euangélion.
One of the most famous definitions of what the gospel/good news of Jesus entails comes from William Tyndale, who prefaced his famous Bible translation with an essay, “A Pathway into the Holy Scripture,” where he says:
Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… a good hearing published by the apostles throughout all the world, of Christ the right David; how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him again: which tidings as many as believe laud, praise and thank God, are glad, sing and dance for joy.
That’s really, at the very core of it, what all of this is all about. Simon, Andrew, James, and the others heard it and danced for joy. So may we all. It is up to us to discern what our dance of response will call us to do.
Have you repented?
Have you believed the gospel?
What is Jesus calling you to do in response?
You may already know the song “Lord of the Dance.” (If you don’t, you can read the words at that link.) It uses the metaphor of dancing to describe Jesus’s entire life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Listen to it now, and let it help you look at Christ in a new way as he calls you into joy.
Lord Jesus, I repent and believe. May I always follow you with gladness and gratitude. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:1-13)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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