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"Immediately"

So what is your reason for following Jesus? Is it some sense of duty or the full flush of love? Is it hope conjured out of the crucible of oppression and the promise of freedom? Or something else?


The First Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan from the Luminous Mysteries chapel of the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, DC Mosaic designed and installed by Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ
[1] The First Mystery: the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan from the Luminous Mysteries chapel of the St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, DC Mosaic designed and installed by Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ

Mark 1:14-20

January 21, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


I mentioned last week that Mark’s favorite word seems to be “immediately”!


Usually, it is a word he links to Jesus. Listen:[2]


“The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness …”


“Immediately the skin disease left [the man Jesus healed], and he was made clean.”


“And [the paralyzed man brought to Jesus by his friends] stood up and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them, so that they were all amazed and glorified God!”


“And when [Jesus] had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met him …”


“Immediately [after touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak], her flow of blood stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”


“And immediately the girl [who had been dead] stood up and began to walk about. At this they were overcome with amazement.”


But in today’s passage, “immediately” applies to the calling of the first disciples: Simon Peter and Andrew immediately left their nets; and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, immediately left their father when Jesus called them.


What could have possibly moved them to react with such speed?


 

Karoline Lewis writes, “We can rationalize the ‘immediately’ all we want — they saw something in Jesus. Or, that’s just Mark’s theme. But what if we [shun] rationality and take our cue from Mark — that something about [Jesus’ call] demands [an] immediate [response].”[3]


That’s how we normally read this passage – Jesus has a certain charisma; his words have authority; or maybe this is the culmination of lots of prior conversations.


But one scholar voices an alternative: “[Another] way to read this passage is to say, ‘Wait a minute: no-one drops their nets and walks away from everything they know without being good and ready to do so, without some deep, pre-existing longing for a different life altogether.’ Read this way, the story prompts us to wonder about those fishermen, and about what it was that prepared them, that made them so ready and willing to hear Jesus’ invitation, drop everything, and go.”[4]


 

What could move you to leave behind family and friends, your work and your home, to step out into the unknown?


Well, the day after 9/11 there was a groundswell of people joining the military wanting to do their part to respond to the worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor. They were driven by patriotism, or duty, or a sense of adventure. They did not know what they would face, or for how long, but they felt like they were in something together. Some of you can relate to that spirit.


Others would tell a different story of stepping into the unknown – of how you met someone and fell in love and left everything to build a life together. My mother and father left Vermont and made a home wherever the Army sent them. Maureen and I each, individually, felt a call to serve in the church, met in seminary, and have been nomads ever since. Our daughter, Emily, moved to Boston so she could be near the man she thought she might love. He’s now her fiancé, so …


But Ched Myers thinks there may have been something else driving the first disciples’ quick response: not patriotism nor love, but a mix of economics and oppression and hope.


The Sea of Galilee was known for its fishing, the most prosperous segment of the local economy. “The known harbors of the first century,” Myers reports, “strongly correlate with locations named in the gospel tradition, including Bethsaida, Gadara, [home to the demoniac mentioned earlier], [Capernaum,] and Migdal, whose Greek name translates as ‘processed fish-ville.’” But then Herod Antipas built Tiberias, to honor the new Roman Emperor, and regulate the fishing industry. [5]    


“The construction work at Tiberius may have drawn Jesus, as a carpenter/construction worker, to the Sea [of Galilee] from Nazareth, and as an itinerant laborer he might have moved up the coast from harbor to harbor,” [introducing him, as he went, to fishermen and their plight.]


Myers gives us a little more historical context: “We know that at this time the fishing industry was being steadily restructured for export, so that the majority of fish were preserved [in salt] or made into a fish sauce and shipped to distant markets throughout the empire. All fishing had become state-regulated for the benefit of the urban elite — either Greeks or Romans who had settled in Palestine following military conquest or Jews connected with the Herodian family.”


He goes on: "With such rigid state control of their livelihood and the oppressive economics of export, it is hardly surprising that in Mark’s story fishermen are the first converts to Jesus’ message about an alternative social vision! If Tiberius was ground zero in Herod’s project of Romanizing the regional economy, then Capernaum up the coast, a village profoundly impacted by such policies, was the logical place to [begin] building a movement of resistance. Restless peasant fishermen had little to lose and everything to gain, by overturning the status quo.”


Finally, Myers points out that “the verb translated ‘they left their nets’ (aphiemi) is used elsewhere in Mark in the context of leaving behind debt, sin, and bondage. Accordingly, aphiemi is what [he] calls a ‘Jubilee verb,’ a verb of release and new life. [So] it’s into a new Jubilee world that Jesus invites these exploited, disenfranchised people to follow him. It’s as if [Jesus is saying]: ‘Leave the reign of Rome behind, come, follow me — for the reign of God, the Great Jubilee, [is] near!’”


 

So what is your reason for following Jesus? Is it some sense of duty or the full flush of love? Is it hope conjured out of the crucible of oppression and the promise of freedom? Or something else?


Whatever it is, Mark encourages you to act, immediately, for Jesus is worth following! Amen


[1] "Coventry Cathedral - Fish," by Sir Basil Spence from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.
[2] See Mark 1:12, 1:42, 2:12, 5:2, 5:29, and 5:42
[3] From “The Immediately of Epiphany” for workingpreacher.org, 1/18/15
[4] From “Follow Me” the SALT project’s reflection on the text, 1/16/24
[5] Here and following, from “Let’s catch some big fish” Jesus’ call to discipleship in a world of injustice, 1/22/15

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