January 23, 2024

January 21, 2024, The Third Sunday After Epiphany

January 21, 2024, The Third Sunday After Epiphany

GOSPEL     Mark 1:14-20

Before Jesus calls his first disciples, he proclaims a message that becomes known as “the gospel” or good news from God. God is ready to rule our lives. Those who realize this will respond with repentance and faith.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


The Sundays after the Epiphany are all about making sense of God revealed in the world through Jesus Christ.  What does it mean that God showed up here?  What’s the plan?  What does Jesus reveal about who God is?   Today we have 4 very different scriptures that we put that question to, and find out what it means for us, that Jesus reveals God to us.

The first lesson – a comedy starring a reluctant prophet – is about mercy – specifically God’s mercy.  Because the very next scene is Jonah berating God for sending him in the first place, because he knew the people of Ninevah wouldn’t get what they deserved.  He just knew it.  We all want to determine who God’s mercy is good for, and who should receive God’s justice.  God showed up here in Jesus to give mercy and grace to all.

The psalm lesson for today is a reminder of what God’s power means for us – and what is worthy of our worship.    The lesson from 1 Corinthians is a bit of a troublemaker but isn’t that Paul’s M.O?  Let even those who have wives be as though they had none.  Super helpful Paul.

But it the context of the whole chapter it is only slightly more helpful, until you realize that Paul’s whole vibe was based on the fact that he was 100% certain that Jesus was returning in his lifetime.  The power of God incarnated would soon return.   The whole getting married and having a family this was not bad or evil or wrong, but it was just something to do in the meantime- because when Jesus returns all bets are off on how we live together in the Kingdom of God.

Paul pushes this theme a bit hard for me, but I try to keep in mind that we have to balance Paul with the rest of the scriptures.  It is not that the things we do here on earth don’t matter, it is that they are fleeting by comparison to the Reign of God.   You know the song, a thousand ages in your sight is like an evening gone.    Sorrow lasts for the evening, but Joy comes in the morning.

Because to Jesus – to God – how we live with our neighbor in the here and now DOES matter.  What we do with our business and our jobs, and our livelihoods matters.    Jesus says the kingdom is at hand – the time is now – but the very next verse he’s just out for a walk on the beach.  casually walking the docks looking for workers?  Disciples?  Fishermen?

the image of “fishing for people,” which Jesus evokes in this passage, has an ancient pedigree — but not in the way you might think.   The origins of the metaphor are much more closely tied with justice and society and how we treat each other. Markan scholar Ched Myers dives into this ion his writings.

In the Book of Jeremiah, for example, in the context of exile in Babylon (about 600 years before Jesus), fishing for people” refers to God’s judgment: the unrighteous and unjust are caught by divine agents, doubly repaid for their iniquity,” and only then rescued from the exile (Jeremiah 16:14-18).   Jeremiah envisions YHWH sending for many fishermen” in order to catch the wayward people of Israel, specifically those who have polluted the land with idols” (Jer 16:16-18).

The prophet Amos targets the elite classes of Israel, whom he calls cows of Bashan,” warning that YHWH will haul them away like sardines to judgment: The time is surely coming upon you [who oppress the poor and crush the needy] when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks” (Am 4:1f).  And then there is Ezekiel’s rant against Pharaoh, denouncing the empire’s delusion that it owns” the Nile. God vows to yank the dragon” of Egypt right out of the River, hook, line and sinker,” along with all the fish that it claims exclusive rights to (Ez 29:3f). [1]

Jesus quoted scripture all the time – and used imagery that the people would know from scripture – but turned it over in a new way to reveal something new about God.  It was not just God’s judgement that would “catch” people, but the net of God’s mercy was wide and far reaching.  Even dragging those like Jonah who would rather see judgement.  And Jesus reveals that we play a role in this divine action.  He holds out an invitation to your average guys, to participate in God’s Kingdom work.

And workers he finds.  And yet, these same workers in the kingdom so often want to do it their own way, by their own rules, and with their own arbitrations of justice and mercy.  These workers in the kingdom who would rather see God put to death than live into this upside-down kingdom are the same who would be ensnared and have goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their lives.

Because the revelation of the kingdom happens among us, bringing us into it, making us a part of it.  Revealed to us, by others who have had it revealed to them.  Luther in his Catechism reassures us that “The kingdom of heaven comes of its own doing, but we pray that it might come among us.”  –  that we might realize it fully, even as we pledge allegiance to so many other powers that rule over us.

Mark’s reference to the kingdom of heaven was by no means purely about the future.  We pray “your kingdom come, your will be done” –  the very use of the term kingdom, reign or empire, was itself subversive. When one was under the control of Rome, there was only one empire, and it wasn’t the empire of heaven! So, when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come near ,”  –  The kingdom of heaven is about the here and the now. It’s about God’s subversion of ruling powers in our world and life through the ministry of Jesus and his disciples.   The kingdom is way of being, of living, as though we actually believe that God reigns and rules over all.

The kingdom is the net that stretches over all rivers God has made and claim as good creation.  Over all peoples and nations.  Dragging us from our death in sin to new life in the kingdom.  The net is not picky or selective as a baited hook might be, but spreads wide, catching up all who swim near.  The kingdom is way of being, of living, as though we actually believe that God reigns and rules over all.  May God’s grace catch us all.


Pastor Erin

[1] https://radicaldiscipleship.net/2015/01/22/lets-catch-some-big-fish-jesus-call-to-discipleship-in-a-world-of-injustice/

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