Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. – Mark 1:14-20
Jesus is baptized, goes into the wilderness with the wild beasts for his training, and emerges doing something specific: preaching. Mark leaves most of the details to the other gospel writers. He is making a clear transition from John the Baptizer to Jesus. John has been the preacher so far, but now he is in prison, and Jesus is clearly John’s successor and the prominent one on the scene.
Mark summarized Jesus’ message: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. The original audience must have heard this as a very radical message: deliverance for God’s people by trusting the messenger. That’s asking a great deal, especially considering that if what he was saying is true, then God’s kingdom was coming close. Jesus is not only called to serve God’s kingdom, but to be God’s kingdom. What a claim!
This gets illustrated plainly in the next scene, the calling of the first four disciples. In our day, families sticking together is generally unimportant. The preeminent, untouchable priority for us is a job. A new and apparently better job offer in another part of the country or world is an automatic and unquestioned reason to leave family, friends, church, and everything else with two-weeks’ notice. That was not the case in Mark’s world. For them it was family. Lacking telecommunications and relatively easy travel, along with strong cultural expectations, one simply never considered leaving the family, which usually meant the family trade as well.
Jesus comes along and calls these men literally in the middle of their family business: he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. This is remarkable. It reminds me of the call of Abraham. He was to leave his family and everything he had known for his already long life and go to an unknown place based on nothing more than God’s call.
Then the calling of the sons of Zebedee is even more stark. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. They apparently didn’t even have a last meal with their father, but up and left him quite literally “in the boat”! Mark is revealing to his readers that the old family business of the people of God is over. It’s not the way it used to be. This isn’t a new piece of good advice; it’s not a different political agenda; it’s not even a new kind of spirituality. While it might in time lead to advice, political disruption, and spiritual expression, Jesus’ call is more than all of these. It is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. To join it is to repent of the old and find rescue and freedom in the new.
I confess that my heart goes out to Zebedee. That seems pretty harsh, and I wonder if he wept openly in the boat with the hired servants looking on and feeling sorry for him. Jesus upsets things though. His contemporaries undoubtedly trusted in all sorts of things as we do. For them it was their ancestry, their land, their laws, and especially their temple. I suspect that, like us, they trusted in their God as long as he did what they expected him to. But Jesus was calling them to trust the good news that their God was doing something new. In order join in, they had to break ties will all their other allegiances. It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now. But when Jesus calls you, your response is “immediate” because the Spirit had descended on Him. And the reward is as unimaginably good as it is everlasting. That’s the gospel!