Old Testament: Jonah (3:1-5, 10)
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
The Response: Psalm (62:6-14)
6 For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in him.
7 He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
8 In God is my safety and my honor; *
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
9 Put your trust in him always, O people, *
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.
12 Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
13 God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, *
that power belongs to God.
14 Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, *
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (7:29-31)
I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
The Gospel: 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Who is he? Who is this man? What powerful presence of the divine must have emanated from him for his first four disciples to get up immediately and leave everything behind and follow him?
In the passage from John’s version of the gospel that we heard last Sunday, there is at least some preparation, some rationale for his followers’ response. Andrew and another, unnamed man had been followers of John the Baptist, maybe for an extended period of time. They had come to put their trust and hope in him. And so, when he directed them to follow Jesus, they complied. Given their complete confidence in John, that made sense.
And in Luke’s version, the first four had just witnessed an overwhelmingly amazing catch of fish. Clearly this was no ordinary teacher! So when Jesus called them, they, too, had some motivation for their response.
But in Mark’s version that we just heard, there is no preparation. A complete stranger walks up to them and calls them to give up everything and follow him. And they do it! What sort of man must he have been to inspire such a radical act?
It has long been recognized that Mark’s version of the Good News, from which most of our Sunday gospel readings are taken this year, is a mystery story. The entire first half is dominated by the question: “Who is this man?” On a Sunday in early September, we will hear Simon Peter solve that part of the mystery by declaring (8:29), “You are the Messiah!” From that point on, the overriding question for the rest of the book becomes “What kind of Messiah will he be?”
A critically important part of every good mystery is not just the answer, but the way that the protagonist comes to solve the mystery. Some of the classic TV mystery series even let you see the crime taking place at the beginning of the show. The rest of the episode focuses on how the mystery solver puts the pieces together and figures it out.
In the case of Mark’s mystery story, Jesus gives those who will become his first disciples the methodology for solving the mystery up front. He says to them simply, “Follow me.” The only way for them to solve the mystery, the only way for them to come to know who he is is by following him: by walking along with him, by doing what he does. After 2000 years, that is still the only way.
For the past two millennia, Christians have tried to avoid the call to follow Jesus and, instead, have tried a variety of other methodologies to get to know him. They manage to convince themselves that they really know who Jesus is, but theirs is necessarily only a superficial understanding. Some try to learn, only in a theoretical sense, about Jesus. Others try to immerse themselves in some abstract spiritual practice. Still others try to stay close to churches or to so-called religious objects or to private ways of thinking about spiritual topics. All of these are well and good and can be important tools in making our way to the heart of the mystery; but none of them can replace the one necessary means of getting to know Jesus, namely, following him: doing what he does.
That’s shouldn’t be too surprising to us. After all, isn’t that the way that we really learn anything in life, at least in any depth? Students learn, not only the content of their school subjects, but, probably more importantly, the practice of learning and of work in general by going to class, and paying attention, and taking notes, and doing homework and studying, day in and day out; those skills will, one hopes, become part of the rest of their lives. Those entering the medical field need to learn many things in classrooms and laboratory settings before they embark on their careers; but their most important and most complete learning comes only in practicing the skills that they have learned as they actually serve their patients. And people in any profession, no matter how much training they have received, learn the most by actually doing the job: by doing the work, day in and day out, year after year. All of us learn most completely by doing.
In the same way, we cannot really learn to be followers of Jesus except by following Jesus: by going out and doing what he did in reaching out to those in need, in coming to understand their lives and their experiences, and in serving them in God’s name. And, if we really immerse ourselves in that work, we inevitably find that it’s not a safe or easy or comfortable job. It is one in which we find ourselves sharing in the same sort of toils and conflicts and sufferings that Jesus experienced. But it is only in that lived experience that we really come to know who he is.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer is best known for his medical work in west Africa; but he was also an accomplished organist, a pastor, and a respected biblical scholar. In 1910, he published his most famous work, one which explored and evaluated the research that had been going on during the 1800s on moving beyond either a literal or a rationalistic approach to the gospels. Its English title is The Quest for the Historical Jesus. It may have been when he was writing that book that he recognized what Jesus’ first disciples came to understand: that the only way to know with any depth who Jesus is is by actually following him. Albert Schweitzer summarizes that realization in the book’s concluding paragraph:
“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
“Come,” Jesus says to us. “Come, follow me.”