Following John’s arrest Jesus entered Galilee proclaiming a message for all to hear. As he wandered through the villages and countryside he would say, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” While John, had had a stationary ministry on the banks of the Jordan River, Jesus’ ministry is mobile. He is active, moving from situation to situation, meeting people where they are, not waiting for them to come and find him, but taking the good news to them wherever they may have been. Entering and making waves in the pools of people’s everyday lives, and calling to them to respond and follow him. Jesus is on the move, actively engaged in the world.
What Jesus brings is the message of the Good News…the Kingdom is here, the Kingdom is near. It is a declaration of God’s ultimate victory over evil - and with it the breaking into the present now of the future heavenly kingdom. I feel that it’s important to note the order in which Jesus proclaims. The request for repentance and then belief occurs after the proclamation that God’s Kingdom has arrived. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” It is not phrased as you better repent and believe in order to reach God’s Kingdom but instead there is what I hear as a joyful and triumphant cry from Jesus that the Kingdom is here, the Kingdom is unfolding all around you so change how you’re living and believe. The grace has been issued first with out conditions, the response is then to repent and believe. We need to remember that repent isn’t about sin but about turning away from one path to another. (Metanoia pronunciation story w/ Mom) When Jesus calls us to repent he is asking for a turning away from an old way to the new way of God. He is asking us to leave behind the ways of the world and return to a state where our true and ultimate loyalty is to God. It’s a call to cut the old ties that bind us and trust in Jesus and his message. This trust lends itself to a belief in the goodness of God. Belief in the manifestation of the Kingdom around us. Belief in the values of God’s reality. Belief in the Good News that God is victorious and in control of our lives and the world, belief that we are free and beloved children.
This all may seem to be a bit counter to what we would normally expect. We aren’t asked to repent in order to bring the kingdom to fruition but because it is already here. We don’t fish for people to reach a magical quota or critical mass to bring God’s kingdom into existence but we fish because the kingdom is here and others need to know. We don’t follow Jesus in hopes of tracking him down some day but because he has already come to us and called us; inviting us to follow him.
We’re called and we are asked to respond. Respond in a sharp and absolute way that will find us leaving behind the old life and entering into the new. The presence of the Kingdom has an effect on what was, and forever changes those touched by it.
Simon and Andrew were probably at least 4th or 5th generation fishermen. They were following in the family business that had been handed down to them by their father and his father and his father before him and so on. The same was true for James and John, though their family business appeared a bit larger as they had hired men working for them. But for both sets of brothers it was a sense of identity as well as a livelihood. It tied them to their families and to their history. They were fishermen, in good times and bad. They knew that they could make a living and provide for their families, it was who they were, and it was a source of their pride in themselves.
Then Jesus came along.
Moving right into their sphere. He walked right into the lives of John and Simon and Andrew and James and called them to drop it all and follow him and he kept right on moving. And (surprisingly) they did (just that);, they gave up their livelihoods, their history, their honour, their very identity and followed him. God was on the move, God’s kingdom of now and still to come was moving amongst the people and transforming them and that was good news. I wonder, what would happen today if we were asked to give it all up and follow Jesus? I wonder what response we’d give?
Much of what Jesus asks is that we put aside the worldly, the societal norms and expectations and replace them with God’s norms and God’s expectations and values. He asks that we put aside our identities that are determined by the world we live in and redefine ourselves as God’s children and Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus calls he isn’t saying follow me and I will give you a new task to do, to be fishers of men. He’s not asking us to fit in yet another activity amidst the many that we are already trying to juggle. He’s not saying do this. (OK, Jesus wants us to fish for people, hmm, how about every 3rd Wednesday? Who else can do 3rd Wednesdays?) He’s saying be this. Follow me and I will transform you into fishers of people, follow me… It is a promise of a transformation into a whole new life. Not doing but becoming someone new.
It involves a risk to follow him, believing that there is more (in Him) than what is offered to us by the world. It is both a terrifying and a liberating prospect. His call is a chance to take on a new identity that doesn’t have anything to do with what we’ve been brought up with…nothing to do with social status, education, geographic location, ethnic background, political affiliation or whatever. It is about ones willingness to take a journey…to begin a pilgrimage. It can be frightening as all the perceived comfort, stability and the reliable happiness that one expected is left behind. It is also a liberating journey, where one not only leaves comforts behind but one is freed from what has held them prisoner. It’s a journey where one learns what it means to be loved by God and where we can chose to be more than what our former identities ever could have offered us. It’s way more than just numbers and church growth opportunities. It’s a much richer picture of a new life. The good news is also that Jesus can start with us regardless of where we begin. There doesn’t have to be elaborate planning or prepping (no training needed), we just need to answer the call. NT Wright said “Our repentance and our journey begins when we understand that the kingdom is here and that God has come for us and that our deepest identity is as people called by God’s unambiguous and certain love, both because of and in spite of our other identities.” Jesus said follow me and immediately they left everything behind and followed him. And nothing was the same again!
Thanks be to God.