"Discipleship Adventure," Rev. Fred Kinsey
Now, after John the Baptist was arrested by Herod and put into prison in Jerusalem, a vacuum of liberating-leadership opened up in Israel. Herod didn’t want to make a martyr out of John by executing him for his preaching in the wilderness, and his ministry of getting people ready for the new Israel, washed and baptized in the Jordan River. But later, that’s exactly what he did. That is, Herod would later order the beheading, of John the Baptist, after his wild Bacchanalia birthday party, where the daughter of Herodias danced for him, and he promised her anything she wanted from his kingdom, before all his elite guests, that evening. But for now, Herod had things under control – sort of.
Little did Herod know that 80 miles north in Capernaum, after the arrest of John, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming ‘good news,’ to fill the vacuum. No one but the Emperor had ever used that term, “euangelion” or ‘good news’ before, except the Emperor. For him it was commonplace. “Good News,” the emperor has conquered France. “Good News,” the emperor announces peace will prevail in the whole Roman Empire – that it had mercilessly conquered. “Good News,” the emperor announces that Herod the Great shall rule over Israel.
Those are the kinds of Good News, “euangelion” announcements, that were expected. And that’s the scene upon which Jesus arrives, announcing that, the time has been fulfilled, and the kingdom and realm of God has come very near, inviting people to turn around from the direction they were going, and to place their radical trust, with all their being, in the Good News of God, the “euangelion” that Jesus brings.
And, that the realm of God, is close at hand –has come very near in Jesus– is also a unique expression in the New Testament – meaning something like God’s profound imminence, even liminality. (Myers, p.131) But that meaning, will only be revealed, as the gospel story progresses, and as the signature teaching, indeed, the new school of Jesus, is unveiled.
So, instead, we find ourselves suddenly back in the mundane world of the first 4 disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, two pairs of brothers who are fishing on Lake Galilee. Mark is keenly aware of the Messianic expectations that live and move and have their being, in 1st century Palestine, and also their convergence in a very ‘triumphant nationalism,’ because, as his Gospel shows, Jesus will be careful to steer his disciples away from any organized holy war or insurrection, which can grow from that kind of news – the most famous example being another Galilean, Judas, a Zealot, who in the year 6, when Jesus was maybe 10 years old, organized much of northern Israel to refuse to take part in the Roman Census, and in an act of domestic terrorism, even burned down Jewish homes and requisitioned their cattle, if they didn’t comply.
So when Jesus enters Galilee, as Mark says, and announces his ‘good news,’ it is also aimed at the old order, and ruling elite – but purposefully, to turn it around, using a kind of active non-violence, to reorient his followers toward the realm of God.
So, Jesus turns first to his home turf in Galilee, especially the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee – also appropriately named, the Sea of Tiberius, after the Emperor. Afterall, the lucrative fishing business, and thus the lake itself, is occupied by Rome. The Emperor owns the Sea, and all the trade that takes place there.
And just like we have sport fishing licenses for fishing now-a-days, they had licenses too. But their licenses were tailored towards family-based consortiums of fishers. This was Rome’s way of encouraging the success of the fishing industry, but of course, for their own benefit; a business which was full of long, long hours, not only catching fish, but mending the nets and boats, processing the fish, and selling it on the market. And Rome heavily taxed the profits at every point along the way. Family and economy were intricately woven in one socio-political system, whereby the fishers were locked into a subservient impoverishment by the corrupted Jerusalem leaders, and the local magistrates of Herod, they were in league with.
So, the Gospel Good News that Jesus brought to the fishers on Lake Tiberius, and to his first four disciples, was that they were being released from this dead-end, no-way-out, oppression. Their lives finally had a measure of hope, as they turned to go in a new direction, as followers of Jesus, to be baptized and reborn in the one who was creating a new community.
The first pair of brothers, Simon and Andrew were casting a net from the shore as Jesus happened by. Jesus bids them, follow me and I will make you fish for people. And they don’t just ‘leave’ their nets, but as the Greek word means, they “released, or let go,” their nets. As John Petty says, “they ‘let go’ of their economic livelihood, and ‘released’ their participation in the current market system.”
And barely a few steps down the shoreline Jesus saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were mending their nets in their boat and he called them too. James and John released themselves, from their family, says Mark, and from the business altogether. They let go of their prescribed narrow hopeless existence and trusted their whole selves to Jesus, repenting of the old, and signing up for a new family, the kingdom and realm of God, which had appeared in the man from Nazareth.
This was good news of a different sort. Not the Good News of a far-away Emperor’s proclamation, that only resulted in more taxes, poverty, and dehumanization, but the Good News that had come very near in the words of Jesus, addressed to them and their situation, that illuminated the truth, and led to a new way of life, a new system of liberation and love.
This was the good news, of a whole new community that Jesus was forming; blessings for those who were meek and humble and poor. They too would be freed to dine as God’s royalty at the banqueting table Jesus offered. Fishers and farmers, tax collectors and prostitutes, rich and poor, men and women, and eventually, Jew and Gentile, would all dine together in this new community of love and equity.
They didn’t know that Jesus would also have to be arrested, like John was, and that he would also have to die, and then, that they – the Disciples, and all followers – would be called on to fill the vacuum, left by the Ascension of Jesus. But his death would also be the final and the ultimate eschatological revealing of God’s desire for them, and the world he came to save.
Jesus’ death, was accompanied by the Good News, of his Rising. Being sacrificed and scape-goat-ed, for the economy of the kingdom of Rome, was transformed into self-sacrifice for, and citizenship in, the new community inaugurated by Jesus. Justice and love were God’s gracious gifts of the kingdom, that were ‘imminent’ in Christ’s banqueting table of Jubilee and equity for all, and which broke through the old systems of Rome’s enslavement, and death-dealing-Good-News, announcements.
The 12 Disciples were only the beginning of this new University of wisdom. Every follower of Jesus, to this day, enrolls in this new and different kind of school. Not like our schools, with a set curriculum, and day of graduation. But as Ched Myers says, “The call of Jesus, …is absolute, disrupting the lives of potential recruits, promising them only a ‘school’ from which there is no graduation… [and] a discipleship adventure!” (Binding the Strong Man, p. 133)
The call of Jesus, is never to individuals alone, but always to all who are invited to enroll in this school of followers who are forming the new community, Jesus inaugurated. A community of justice, hope, and love. A community that has turned away from an economy of enslavement, inequality, and insurrection, and sits down together at the same banqueting table that has no graduation, only more lessons of life, in the kingdom and realm of God.
This is the community we are called to form together at Unity, and with our neighbors in the world. Let us leave our boats on the lakeshore, and come and follow.