In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptizer is arrested and Jesus comes on the scene. He stops by the Sea of Galilee and calls family fishermen to become fishers of men. Hence, we often have the sermon about the missionary call to save individual souls.
In Mark, Jesus’ call is much more than that. Mark’s Gospel begins by proclaiming the Good News—Gospel. Only the emperor could proclaim good news. Immediately, we see much more in what Mark is saying. Jesus is setting out to challenge the existing imperial order. Jesus is initiating a campaign to restore justice, right order and right relationships. In today’s parlance, we could call it the Occupy Jerusalem Movement to restore right order to the people of Israel who are oppressed by Roman and priestly domination. Hence, Jesus’ call of disciples is much more than a plain vanilla challenge to save souls. It is a challenge to restore all that is right and good and beautiful in Israel. It is a challenge to initiate the Kin—dom of God. In St. Bonaventure concept of justice, it is a call to restore people to beauty to that which is distorted.
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man, helps us understand the full import of Jesus’ call:
. . . the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh’s censure of Israel. Elsewhere, the “hooking of fish” is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Amos 4:2) and the powerful (Ez. 29:4). “But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt
them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes. I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols.” (Jer 16:16-18)
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
through breaches in the wall,
and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the LORD. (Amos 4:2)
Pharaoh, the imperial oppressor, will feel the wrath of God:
In the tenth year, in the tenth month on the twelfth day, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt,
you great monster lying among your streams.
You say, “The Nile belongs to me;
I made it for myself.”
But I will put hooks in your jaws
and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales.
I will pull you out from among your streams,
with all the fish sticking to your scales.
I will leave you in the desert,
you and all the fish of your streams.
You will fall on the open field
and not be gathered or picked up.
I will give you as food
to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the sky.
Relying on Old Testament imagery to help him understand and define Jesus’ mission, Mark makes it very clear that fishing for men is about much more than missionary works. Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in the struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. Is this not similar to the call of Occupy Wall Street? Jesus is and should be at the forefront of any movement to overcome the existing order of power and privilege when such an order marginalizes, dehumanizes, and oppresses people. We are to use nonviolent means to bring down the powerful, privileged minority—the 1%. This is Liberation Theology at its best. No wonder John Paul II sold out and condemned a theological movement that would have been approved by Jesus.
Now, for the “rest of the story.” Myers challenges us to read beneath the words so we can see what is really happening. Israel, like many ancient cultures, was a kinship society. Family and family ties were at the heart of the social order. Jesus by summoning the disciples to leave their family fishing business and so they could work to restore justice is in fact a call to break all social ties—economic and social. Myers concludes:
The point here is that following Jesus not just assent of heart, but a fundamental reordering of socio-economic relationships. The first step in dismantling the dominant social order is to overturn the “world” of the disciple: in the kingdom, the personal and the political are one. These concrete imperatives are precisely what the rich—Mark will tell us later—are unwilling or unable to respond to (10:17-30).
Jesus today goes from peaching to meddling—meddling in our lives to call us to establish the Kin-dom now. Jesus overturns our world—the world of the disciple. We are being called to break the ties that bind us to an unjust social order where greed and violence have corrupted economic systems such as capitalism. Let me be clear from the get-go. Jesus is calling us this very day to join a nonviolent campaign to restore the order and beauty of justice in a world run amok with violence, greed, and exploitation of the masses. In a nation where one out of six live in poverty and in a world where billions of people “survive” without clean water on less than two dollars a day, the challenge is daunting but accept it we must.
The picture of stormy mountains at the top is there to remind us that a storm is brewing in our nation and world. The gross inequities that exist in our world and our nation cannot continue. This is kairos time—time to reevaluate current economic and social structures and to nonviolently break the ties that bind. We should relish the idea that we have the opportunity to bring Gospel values to bear on restructuring society and our economic systems.
Today, Bishop Taylor, Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, will be at Good Shepherd Church in Hayesville for confirmation. Because the Episcopal Church recognizes our Catholic confirmation some 56 years, Joan and I will participate in a process of reception into the Episcopal Church. What an opportunity to re-commit and re-dedicate our lives to the service of the Risen Christ. We now know that our relationship to the Risen Christ is much more than an effort to save our souls. The Risen Christ is calling us to imbibe and live Kin-dom values. We depend on the spirit of the Risen Christ to help us become what we already are—disciples of Christ who work to restore justice. This is healing ministry at its best because justice work restores truth, beauty and right relationships and reshapes the structures which oppress and cause hopelessness and human misery and suffering.