Summary: "Jesus’ authority as kingly Messiah rests not in spectacle or selling-out or cutting corners, but rests on His reliance on the Father and Jesus’ costly obedience to the Father even along the road to the cross."
“The time has come,” Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15)
That was Jesus’ great announcement at the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. And to the two pairs of brothers… “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (1:17)
Turn – Believe – Follow.
Jesus had arrived to announce a new kingdom and to confront people with the call to come out of exile and return to the LORD to the place where YHWH would dwell in their midst. So often in Scripture, ‘the sea’ represents the nations and the forces in rebellion against God. Jesus had arrived to fish people out of the sea and rescue them from their slavery to Satan. That visual image of people being fished out of the sea coughing and spluttering, lying dazed and confused on the shore, blinking and disorientated and in shock is a useful one to have in our heads as we encounter Jesus and his disciples fishing for people in Mark’s gospel. Our passage of Scripture today has people frequently in shock at Jesus’ fishing project.
As you read through Mark you need to know that Mark tells us three things that are embedded in the narrative from start to finish. One is the news that Jesus is the kingly Messiah, but secondly, that Messiah-ship is couched in the terms of Him being God’s suffering Servant (which is totally counter to people’s expectations of the Messiah). Thirdly is the fact that because of this mismatch of expectations, Jesus keeps his identity secret until the week before his crucifixion. You can see even in today’s reading Jesus silences the demons in the middle of their shrieking about him and he warns the ex-leper strongly not to tell people. And this is because people’s own plans for Jesus as Messiah are not in line with his mission that leads to the cross.
The demons seek to avoid their fate by trying magic formulas of control using Jesus’ name a bit like someone using a child’s full name when they’ve been naughty. But Jesus uses no formulas in response, just His Word to silence their incantations and defeat their power.
As Jesus announces the arrival of the kingdom of God and declares in word and deed his own strange kingly-role… as Jesus rescues people out of the sea and indeed even as he reclaims territory from the sea (a bit like a spiritual Dubai waterfront project), battle-lines are being drawn. Battle-lines are being drawn and people are confronted with the choice, the decision, to recognise their exile and turn and return, to acknowledge that they are drowning and adrift in the sea, or to resist the advance of God’s declared kingdom. In the end there will be no neutral territory, no sitting on the fence. Those called disciples, called to be followers have to choose to follow, to obey, to take up their cross. Those labelled the crowd, amazed by teaching, stunned by healings, shocked by exorcisms, drawn along by miraculous provisions, will in the end have to choose. And then the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, the scribes, the supposed guardians of God’s kingdom, who time and again find themselves on the wrong side of the equation, will have to decide what to do with this challenge to their authority, what to do about this trouble-maker who claims equality with God. We will time and again meet these groups… the disciples, the crowd, and the authorities.
The questions, ‘What is this?’ (1:27) and ‘Who is this?’ (4:41) that crop up in the text confront us also with having to decide who Jesus is and whether we will accept the cost of following Him on His journey to the cross.
Mark has deliberately included these questions that were asked, and he has deliberately defined the different groups that encountered Jesus, so that we are drawn to ask those questions ourselves and choose ourselves how we will respond to His Kingship and His costly call to follow.
Battle-lines are indeed being drawn. The Satan is being confronted. Territory is being reclaimed from the sea. People are being fished from drowning. And the call is to join in the project or to resist, to turn to the Rock or to stick with the sea. Disciples, crowd, Pharisees… which group are you with and which side will you then choose? Those with power will have to lay it down, those following the masses will have to make a choice themselves, and those who are disciples will continually be challenged to choose between fishing for Jesus and the pressure to submit to the sea.
Under the surface of the account of the brothers returning home we can see the cost of the choice to follow and fish with Jesus. The presence of a mother-in-law is a give-away sign that there is a family. Simon and Andrew have family to care for, they have responsibilities and people to provide for. People may go hungry due to the brothers’ choice to put down their nets and follow Jesus. That’s a powerful challenge to us, many of whom are here in this country precisely to fish for our families and our futures. The costly challenge to put down our nets and fish with Jesus. And we see that though that choice is costly, Jesus doesn’t forsake those who are our responsibility. Simon’s mother-in-law is healed and that in itself is a sign of grace for a family that has chosen to put down their nets and join Jesus’ kingdom rescue project.