Promise or warning?

Published 11:25 am Saturday, January 27, 2018

What is the strangest thing anyone has ever asked you to do? What is the deepest commitment someone has asked you to make?

Those are the kinds of questions that arise so naturally as we listen to this story from Mark’s gospel today. There are other questions, though. Why did Jesus use the words that He did? And, what exactly was He calling them to?

A ministry was beginning in Galilee.

Mark’s gospel begins with a spartan account; all business and no flourish. There is no heart-warming birth story here. No shepherds or angels. Not even a genealogy to give us background. In fact, Jesus is already an adult as Mark picks up the story … with John.

John is at work, a living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.”  We overlook the movement that had begun, as people were traveling outside the city to hear this one and some of them were being baptized. Jesus had come out and presented Himself to John for that baptism, and immediately God’s spoken blessing settled over them in the form of the Spirit.

Jesus’ ministry had begun. But, He was going to need helpers.

He walked along and extended a call we might all do well to pay attention to. Because this calling of His disciples is, in many ways, our true calling. We might consider whether it contains both promise and warning.

I still remember sitting in a Vacation Bible School classroom. I was a third-grader, and it was craft time. We had been handed an oval bar of soap. And, a fine mesh-netting. A length of ribbon was there, and a small eye to glue on when it was all finished. We are making “fish” that day in Vacation Bible School, because the day’s story was this depiction of Jesus in Mark 1:14-20 calling His disciples.

Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.

I believe we were correctly taught back then that Jesus was making them a promise. Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of people. He could see that they knew how to fish in the conventional sense. It was their living. Peter, Andrew, James and John.

I believed then, and I do now, that God does not extend to us a calling to participate without also giving us what we’ll need. The gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence is that provision.

So, what’s the warning in this same phrase?

These disciples left their jobs, their families and their homes. They travelled with this one — unlike foxes who have holes — who had no place to lay His head. They encountered opposition on the road with Jesus.

They had tough lessons to learn, perplexing truths to grasp. In the end, many of them took up their crosses and bore much the same pain and death that He would at Golgotha.

Turns out, that fishing for people is not always safe business. Of course they had their rewards.

They were part of something that was exciting and new! They were seeing miraculous happenings that were truly more than just miracles. They were signs that God had come to be among us.

For us this life is also challenging at times, this following Jesus. Fishing for people: sharing our faith … living lives of integrity and meaning … holding to high standards of ethic and love …  seeing life through lenses of compassion. This kind of life will often put us at odds with a prevailing culture around us.

Albert Schweitzer was a German theologian, writer and musician. Famously, and without support from many of those closest to him, Schweitzer accepted the call of Christ upon his life. His burden was to give medical help to those who so desperately needed it, but who could not afford that help. First, he went off to medical school even though he had no background previously that would have portended such a move. Then, he applied for missionary service and was eventually accepted.

He was sent to Africa. He worked there for years, and then later returned to Europe where, among other efforts, he advocated for restraints on nuclear weapons testing. Why would such a brilliant and diverse talent train his focus on giving to others? Perhaps this quote, widely attributed to Schweitzer, gives us some insight. He said, “Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.”

CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.