Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; I Cor 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20
They make it sound so easy, don’t they? The disciples that is. They simply drop everything, the nets, fishing, their father, other others and go on their way. We can only imagine what the hired workers and the father thought in this moment. There had to be some anger and a bit of resentment. Yet, what the disciples don’t know, and often what we don’t know, is that as much as they can come out of the boat and follow Jesus, you can’t take the boat out of them. That sense of duty, responsibility, guilt, obligation, expectation, or whatever you may call it goes with them. They simply go from imitating one person, in their father, to trying to imitate Jesus. That’s why it’s simply the first call of the disciples. They were primed for it. There’s a sense of adventure, something new, facing the unknown, and probably thinking, it’s got to be better than fishing.
And so their journey begins. And sadly, for many, that’s where it ends. This call of discipleship, as it was for the first disciples, is just the beginning. Quite frankly, we all grow up imitating adults around us, for good or for ill. Imitating Jesus shouldn’t be all that hard. Although, we have trouble even getting that part of the journey down well. But they’re not Jesus and nor am I or any of you. I’ve mentioned this the past few weeks now, beginning with the Magi, it’s simply the first call for a reason. The real call comes later in the story when the rubber hits the road and they are finally left with a choice. For the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem. For Jonah, it comes in Ninevah. For the disciples, like the Magi, it happens in Jerusalem. Those places become the apex of their first call. You can’t go much further than death, despair, fear, anxiety, and that’s everything those cities become to each of them and where do they go from there. That’s the real call and the choice for each of us.
For Jonah, he’s appears a little further along the journey than the disciples. He’s already been called and in this tiff with God, which, as we all know, leads him to the belly of the whale all because he resists the call to go to Ninevah. You see, that place was everything that was wrong in the eyes of Jonah and others. They were the enemy. They were the oppressors. To him, there was nothing good about the place and low and behold, back to where he started, he ends up on the shore of Ninevah. He could resist all he wants but God’s going to keep pushing him there until he responds to the second call, which is to pass through the enormously large city, three day journey, through Ninevah. Now if you read it, it appears that all lived happily ever after. They repent of their ways. They actually listen to him. But, he still resists and becomes angry. It wasn’t them that needed the message as much as it was him. He too had a choice. Was he going to continue to hold onto his own judgments of them and himself and of God and what it meant to be a prophet or was he finally going to surrender to where it was that God was leading him and become the prophetic voice that he was. Not in comparison to everyone else but he had to become his own person. In that image of the disciples, he finally had to surrender the boat because it no longer gave life. That way of thinking and living only led to a resistance to the deeper call, the second call of Jonah, and for that matter, the disciples.
They will have their day. The next weeks they’ll be living on a high. They see all the good that Jesus is doing and they want a piece of that action. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something new and exciting. But the sense of urgency and immediacy that Mark adds to the story, and which we’ll hear these weeks, is simply to get them to the real showdown and the real call that is being given to them. As I said, imitating is easy but can they imitate all the way and surrender it all. That’s where it becomes a rub for the disciples. We know it takes them awhile as well, just as it does for us. They’re immediate response is to go back to Galilee. And eventually they will have to go back to Galilee but begin to see it in a different light. They’ll go back to what they know, even if it hasn’t given them life. They’ll go back to the boat because they think that’s good enough. They’ll go back to being indentured to their father and the family business all because it got to hard. Of course, they’ll eventually pass through the second call as the Magi did. The Magi had to go through Jerusalem before they can reach the Christ in Bethlehem. It’s one of the most humbling experiences because they learn it’s not about them but about this God who has called them forth not simply to imitate but to become and to be the fullness of who they were created to be. It’s their greatest gift and it’s why they and Jesus were such a threat to the systems of their day.
Paul may sum it up best though when he speaks about all of this passing by. We tend to worry about all the wrong things and get caught up the darkness of our day. As much as this passing through is about us, it’s also about this city, this nation, and this world. But like the cast of characters, we have to pass through dark times. We have to pass through fear and anxiety. We have to pass through our perceived enemies, as it was for Jonah, in order to experience the real call, the second call of discipleship, the choice of what we do in and with those times of our lives. It’s crucial and life-altering but it’s the demand of the gospel and the fullness of the call of the disciples.
As we continue this journey through the weeks of ordinary time, we may find ourselves in very different places. Some still trying to imitate, others in the thick of Jerusalem, discerning that call, and yet others on the edge trying to figure things out. Wherever it may be, the call remains because the call is the eternal. It will stay and will continue to see us through even the darkest times of our lives and the deepest of troubles all pushing to awaken us to the deeper call within, not just to imitate but rather to be our best selves, our fullest selves. I know quite well that the boat is a comfortable place. We all know that. But it’s not where we’re meant to stay. At this very moment God looks at us and with the gentlest of voices calls us forth to be the more we were created to be in this world.