The Gospel according to Mark starts out real good, it starts out like a book you might actually want to read. In rapid prose, Mark tells us that all of prophecy had been fulfilled, that a crazy-looking dude named John started dunking people in a river, that a man named Jesus had been revealed to be the Son of the living God and then driven out into the desert where Satan himself showed up to mess with Him. This is a great story! What happens next?! Well, not much. If someone made a movie of the first chapter of Mark the portion that we heard this morning would have been mashed into a montage, because it doesn’t make a lot of sense in a typical narrative.
What happened next is that Jesus just sorta roamed around in the boonies. Mark makes it seems like Jesus was just wandering around and started telling random people to follow Him around. Worst yet, Jesus doesn’t even say anything new, but just repeats the same stuff that His cousin John the Baptist was saying. For a book that you would have been absolutely sure was set in Jerusalem, Galilee sure seems like a strange place to fine your main characters. “It reminds me of a scene from the classic movie The Philadelphia Story in which Katherine Hepburn plays the haughty East Coast sophisticate Tracy Lord. At one point she meets an earnest young woman who tells Tracy that she is from Minnesota. With a dismissive, if not vaguely bored, tone in her voice Tracy says to the woman, “Ah, yes, Minnesota. How nice. That’s west of here somewhere, isn’t it?”1
It wouldn’t be difficult to think the same of Galilee, and for that matter, it wouldn’t be difficult to think the same of the rubes that must come from somewhere so remote. Mark doesn’t help out the first disciples much when it comes to this. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen who, at least as Mark tells it, dropped their nets, their families, and their whole lives just because some guy walked past and asked them to.
But that can’t be right, right? I don’t mean to say that God can’t move people’s hearts and minds; I mean only that God hasn’t revealed Himself to be the kind of God that coerces or forces or tricks people into dropping their lives and responsibilities. I think we can assume that when Jesus walked up and said hello, those four guys didn’t stand bolt upright in their boats and lurch forward like robots2 (must…follow…Jesus…). “Despite the Sunday School version of this story that might lead us to believe that these first four disciples had never heard of Jesus before, there is nothing in the text to rule out the possibility that all or most of them had already listened to Jesus’ preaching in Galilee. Mark’s narrative is swift enough that we might miss the fact that Jesus may have been in the region of Galilee for some time before calling Simon and Andrew, James and John.”3 It’s my theory that they all knew each other from the docks and from hanging around John the Baptist, so they most likely had heard the Baptist proclaim Jesus as the Christ or maybe even seen Jesus be baptized.
We don’t know, and on some level, it doesn’t matter much how those first disciples came to follow Jesus. Except it does matter, if not historically than spiritually. It matters for us, because we are followers of Jesus; at some point we made the decision to be here, to be everywhere for Jesus, to fulfill our baptisms and the promises made for us.
We all know someone who has had one of those “Damascus Road” experiences, a conversion experience, where the Holy Spirit just grabs that person and their life is changed forever. But for most of us, the decision to follow Jesus is a longer process, a series of decisions, a series of choices that we make either for Jesus or for some other god we wish to pursue. We tend, being human, to get distracted on the way of discipleship, (Jesus Jesus Jesus squirrel!).
The good news is that if you want to follow Jesus, if you want Jesus in your life, to be the head of your life, if your relationship with Jesus is the chief goal of our life, He’s there, even when you get distracted. Peter and Andrew and James and John, they laid eyes on Jesus and made their decision to follow Him come hell or high water, and I hope you do too; I hope you’ll remember today and always what it is about Jesus that first made you pay attention to Him, to love Him, to put down whatever it was that you were doing and follow Him wherever He leads. For His way is a way worthy of your life, and the only way to life eternal.
1. Scott Hoezee, This Week
2. Ibid, paraphrased.