Sometime in the 1970s a collection of reflections on the Gospels was published with the title the Gospel of Solentiname. Is was an edited transcript of the reflections of a bible study group in a remote part of Nicaragua. If my memory is correct they were a group who had not had much if anything to do with the study of Christian stories before and Ernesto Cardinal, the priest shared their responses to the story with others at the height of the liberation theology movement. I don’t recall much detail or even the conclusion of the study but over the years since I have returned to their response to the story, the story we heard read this morning from Marks gospel where Jesus invites a group of fishermen to leave their nets and follow him. The study group response went something like this “Not likely. Who in their right mind would leave a good occupation and income and wander about after some man they didn’t know. He could be mad or up to mischief.”
I remember being shocked by their honesty on the one hand - after all I’d been well indoctrinated to think anyone who was asked would think themselves lucky to follow Jesus. On the other hand I thought ‘ I’m with them, you won’t get me following some strange man no matter how much of a celebrity he thinks he is’.
Well, would you?
As I remembered this experience this week it got me thinking about who I would follow if I got a chance ... in fact who do I follow! Is there anyone, or idea, I am committed to?
These days I am too old to think of packing my backpack or even my suitcase with wheels and heading off who knows where after anyone. But notwithstanding that, I pursued the question “who/what do you follow?
I’m not a particularly courageous person, and I don’t think I could have been persuaded to leave my paid job and the future security it offered for anyone’s bright idea. (I know some of you are more courageous than me and have done these things) But I have followed ideas and deeply held values. I think that must have been a bit what it was like for those fishermen who were prepared to leave their nets and follow Jesus and his promise to make them fishers of men.
It got me wondering who or what would we be willing to follow today.
It is easy to hear the story and personalise it, to hear it in relation to the obedience of Andrew and Simon, James and John’s response to Jesus, we are used to doing that with bible stories. But I want to venture that this story paints a picture of desperation amongst a community of poor fisher-folk who were willing to chase an impossible dream of social and economic change in a time of colonial oppression and diminishing options. (I'm reading between the line, reading the whites-spaces as it were because it is here we often find interesting insights.)They were part of the tax network often paying a lease for their right to fish as well as tax to the Romans. And they had a relatively 'good' occupation!
Enter Jesus, with his vision of a world where everyone has enough, where the poor are lifted high and the powerful brought low, where children are valued for who they are and a God who is present amongst us and loves us all equally and unconditionally requiring nothing more in return than we love each other and respect each other and care about each other's wellbeing.
This is not a story about personal obedience and following a nebulous dream. The gospels often use personal stories to speak about whole communities of people and this is one of those. Mark is more often than not concerned with the politics of the situation, about what Jesus does in certain situations. By contrast with 'Mark' we too are often concerned about the individuals and do not see them in their community, or representing communities and socio-political contexts.
The diverse group Jesus is gathering around him - women and men- are following a dream, a vision of change. In him they see someone who knows the concrete reality of bondage and colonial oppression is like for ordinary working people, as well as what liberation could be like, and they want to go with that, put their efforts their too with him. Remember, the writer of Mark's gospel recorded his material about 65CE, about the time of increasing Roman persecution of Christians. Times were tough. So this offers hope and encouragement to the struggling communities and reminds them of Jesus call and why.
Today we need a diverse group willing to proclaim a vision of a world freed from bondage to the almighty dollar, a world that remembers economics is about the oikumene - the wellbeing of the whole inhabited earth - and not an end in itself. We need a diverse group willing to proclaim environmental justice, as I said last week, to be concerned about the capacities of the land to feed us, our society to house us and to care about our health, we need education and encouragement to engage in bringing this about, we need a story that will capture searchers and the next generation - our children and grandchildren - so they too put their wisdom and insight and capacities in the places where life and hope and love are at work.
After John was arrested we are told Jesus came to Galilee saying "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near: repent and believe in the good news." According to the writer of Marks gospel it was these words that captured the imagination and enthusiasm of those who heard and followed. In other words we could say 'now is the time to act for change, the signs are all here, turn away from the story that leads to self seeking greed and negative judgments and turn toward transformative life-giving care, toward justice-making-love'. This is the gospel, the good-news that is lived out in the ministry and story of Jesus who we profess to follow.
I am so glad that I am not alone in any of this.
I'm glad that I am part of a people who call themselves the 'Body of Christ' and we have a shared responsibility to act for love and kindness and a healthy community. That is, we do not all have to follow the same enthusiasms: but rather you with yours and me with mine as our interests and skills and abilities lead us. Some of us will be concerned with closing the wealth gap, with housing the vulnerable elderly, with ensuring our children do not live in poverty or with the fear of violence, with supporting victims of sexual violence, with sound education …. and the list could go on. It is not that we will ever be satisfied with what we manage to achieve, but is that we keep striving toward the vision of 'the kingdom' as we used to say - the place where lions lay down with lambs, where the thirsty are given water, the hungry fed … it is that we keep striving to be the means whereby God is manifest amongst us.