Today’s readings

Huge apologies for the lateness of this lesson. I hope you are having a good week!

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

This week seems to overlap with last week’s reading in John, where Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael. Remember that we went back and looked at the verses that preceded last week’s reading, meeting Andrew, Peter and John. This week is about the call of Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John.

Immediately before this passage, Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist. He then, in verses 12 and 13, retreats to the wilderness for a period of testing. That brings us to today’s reading, which actually has two pieces. The first, verses 14 and 15, tells us about Jesus’ preaching in Galilee. We then move to the Sea of Galilee and watch Jesus call disciples. In fact, both of these passages were very important to Martin Luther, and we’ll discuss that later.

We find that John has already been arrested when this passage starts. Then in verse 15, Jesus says “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” First, there are a couple of interesting language notes in this passage:

  • The word for “arrested” that describes John is a Greek word for “detained and held until death.” It’s an unusual Greek word and is only used to describe John and Jesus in the book of Mark.
  • There are two words for “time” in Greek: “chronos” and “kairos.” Chronos is a specific time on the clock; for instance, “What time are you going to school?” Kairos denotes a time in which something happens. In early Christian writing it specifically refers to a time that God breaks into human history. Jesus uses “kairos” here to indicate that God is breaking in.
  • Note the use of the word “immediately” throughout the passage. Remember that Mark is all about quick action.

Then we get to the very important phrase “Repent and believe…” For Martin Luther, and us, this is an incredibly important command. We can’t merely acknowledge our sin. We must repent–acknowledge and turn from it. You can think of it as a “U-turn” from your previous behavior. The result of repentance is righteous living.

A great example of repentance is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:9:

For the people of those regions report…how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.

The people of Thessalonica had been doing one thing (serving idols), but when they were convicted by the Law (by Paul’s preaching and the Holy Spirit) they turned from the wrong thing to do the right thing (serving God), and they believed.

The two-part command of “repent and believe” is also seen by Luther as containing the intersection of Law and Gospel, and we require both to be saved. The Law convicts us. It shows us where we fall short and where we need to repent. But the good news which we are to believe is the saving news of the Gospel. We will always, always fall short of the Law. But the good news–truly the GOSPEL good news–is that Jesus covered it all. We merely have to turn from our sin and believe.

When Luther wrote the Smalcald articles in 1537, he spent a lot of time talking about repentance. One of his chief objections to the Catholic Church was the selling of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins. This was the difference between being penitent–acknowledging your wrongdoing– and being repentant–acknowledging the behavior and changing. Luther maintained that the “papists” did not believe we are sinful to begin with; rather, we only need to do penance for actual sins. But this isn’t true. We need to repent, as Jesus said, because the Law convicts us on every count.

Thankfully, though, we aren’t left there. Jesus tells us to “believe in the good news.” This is the “consoling promise of grace through the Gospel.” It is the powerful combination of the Law and infinite grace of the Gospel which save us.

And that is just the first two verses for today!

Next we come to the “Fishers of Men” account of Jesus calling His disciples. This can be a little confusing, because last week’s lectionary reading was the call to Philip and Nathanael. But we had read some of the earlier verses about Andrew, Simon and John. So how does this passage fit with that one?

In John 1, John the Baptist is still on the scene. He has pointed out to Andrew and (probably) John that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Now in Mark, John has already been arrested, so we know this takes place some time later. It seems not unreasonable that John’s disciples had gone back to their trade after John’s arrest. One reason it seems likely is that they do exactly the same thing in John 21, after Jesus’ resurrection!

I also think that having some time for Andrew, Simon, James and John to mull over the fact that Jesus is the Lamb of God makes the idea that they would drop everything when Jesus issues his invitation far more convincing. They had had time to consider what had happened–Jesus’ baptism and all the accompanying miracles (like the dove and the voice), John’s remarks about Jesus, John’s arrest–and to decide what they would do if offered the chance. When Jesus appeared, they were READY.

This leads us to another one of Luther’s favorite ideas: vocation. What are you called to do?

At the time Luther was writing, vocations were seen to be largely a “within-the-church” idea. If you weren’t called to be a priest, monk or nun, well, you didn’t have a vocation. And you were definitely a step below those who served the church. Luther said that this was completely wrong. So many who performed “good works” inside the church were only performing those works for themselves. Our neighbors need our good works, and God needs us to perform them. The grace of the Gospel should propel us outward into the world, to love and serve our neighbors through our vocations.

The vocation is a call on our life. Jesus decided that James and John, Andrew and Peter would better serve their neighbors by following Him, so He called. Others he left there, fishing, so that they would serve their neighbors by catching fish. This is also why God doesn’t call all of us to be pastors! Rather, our neighbors need so many different good works, and we do, too. Therefore God will call each of us and we need to be ready.

Old Testament: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

This is a short reading from a short book. I highly recommend reading all of Jonah! This book was likely written in the 8th century B.C., before Assyria threatened Judah directly.

Jonah is a prophet who God directs to go to Ninevah. He is supposed to tell them that they are so evil that God is going to destroy them. But Jonah hates Ninevah! So he runs the other way, getting on a boat and sailing away. Even the sea isn’t far enough for Jonah to hide from God. A storm comes up, during which the other sailors discern that a God is after Jonah, so they toss him overboard. Jonah is then swallowed by a large fish which keeps him safe until he’s spit up on dry land three days later. For Jonah, the terribly unpleasant experience of the fish’s stomach becomes the place that saves him from drowning.

Then we get to today’s reading. God repeats his call to Jonah, and this time Jonah goes to Ninevah. He certainly isn’t very generous with his preaching: “Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!” In Hebrew this was only five words. (I have to admit that right now, I’m wondering why he would have been preaching to Ninevah in Hebrew at all! At any rate, it’s a short sermon.)

The news of this Jew preaching throughout Ninevah reached the king, who ordered the entire city including animals to repent. And verse 10 tells us that God changed His mind. Nineveh was spared, if only for the time being. This makes Jonah the most successful prophet in the Old Testament! Of course, it wasn’t satisfying to him. He did what God asked, but grudgingly, and when Ninevah had the nerve to take him seriously, he retreated to a hillside to pout. This is outside of our reading today, but be sure to read the last chapter of Jonah so you can see how the story ends.

Think for a moment about the call God gave to Jonah. Did Jonah hear it? YES! But he didn’t submit to it, and he ended up in a pretty disgusting place. He got another chance, and this time he did what God was calling him to do. It wasn’t a fun job, but Jonah did do it. Actually, it wasn’t even a very difficult job. I think we can consider the attitude of the person called towards their calling here. If God has a job picked out, it WILL get done, with you or without you. But how much better to be with God? Also, read Jonah 4:10, 11. Who missed out on salvation by Jonah’s not obeying God right away? There is an immediacy to each call that God gives. Remember that once Jesus called, the disciples responded “immediately.”

New Testament:  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

This is a good example of the translation being very important. I happen to really love the Message Bible for today’s reading and I’ll quote it here in it’s entirety:

I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple–in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things–your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out.

This small passage comes within a larger part of 1 Corinthians where Paul answers specific questions that the church there has had. Their questions boiled down to “How should we live? Married, single? Working, not working? What?” Paul tells them that they are seeing the trees. Look at the forest. What will allow you to serve Jesus best? If relentlessly pursuing marriage detracts from following Jesus, stop. If loneliness from being single consumes you, then get married. But follow Jesus.

Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, to be ready to respond. The disciples weren’t encumbered when Jesus calls. We shouldn’t be, either. This is a good time to consider–what are you holding so tightly that you can’t answer God’s call?