Giving up our Prejudices

Mark 2:13-17

Is it easier to give up things willingly, or have things taken forcefully?

We don’t like it when people take our money. Paying taxes, paying tolls, and coming up with the funds for all the things we have to pay for can make the blood pressure skyrocket. Tollbooth collectors on turnpikes have had guns pointed at them, been spit on and called names for doing their job. In the first century, toll collectors were not liked very much, either. Israel was a tiny country in the middle of some superpower countries in the Ancient World. If you want to move anything from Egypt to Assyria, Babylon, or the Hittites, you have to pass through Israel. There was a trade network in Galilee with roads that run around the lake and out to the major highways. The Romans used these roads to move men and material.[1] A major highway was the “way of the sea”, described in Isaiah 9:1-2, and was known as the Via Maris, or King’s Highway. And it goes right past Capernaum.

Naturally, there were tollbooths on that highway so that the king could take anything that was transported from the sea to the land, and from Galilee to the surrounding areas. There were taxes on the fish, the weaving, the clothing, and the produce that came from the farmers. A Jewish tax collector was considered a traitor to their people, and to God.

Jesus had been hanging out in Capernaum, staying at the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, and teaching by the seashore. It’s a big city. The fishing trade is big in that region, and around the Sea of Galilee there are many harbors and places to dock boats that were coming in from fishing. Peter, Andrew, James and John are very familiar with tax collectors. As business owners, they have had to pay their fair share of taxes. One day, Jesus entered into their lives.

As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Mark 1:16-18

Sea of Galilee with highway running alongside

But then Jesus does the same thing with a local tax collector.
As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. Mark 2:13-14

Fishermen are middle class citizens who do respectable work. Jewish tax collectors, on the other hand, were put in place by the king and ruling authorities, and they overcharged the people and kept the profits. They were seen as unclean people for taking dirty money, and as traitors to their own people. Levi was a tax collector for Rome. He had a booth in town and Peter, Andrew, James and John knew exactly who he was. He was the scum that collected taxes on their fish. He was the one who took their money and lived in a fancy house. He was oppressing the people of God just like Rome was! “Jesus! What are you thinking?”

It’s one thing when your money is taken from you. It’s another thing when you’re asked to give it up willingly. Levi had the opportunity to be wealthy and comfortable. He had a cushy job that allowed him and his family to have opportunities that many people could only dream of. His children may have had a privileged education; his wife could buy fine clothes; he enjoyed some favor with the higher ups, but when Jesus calls him, he gets up, leaves his booth and distances himself from his money…willingly!

Following Jesus might mess up our lives, too. The stories that Jesus tells sound pretty good, but if we have a good job, good friends, and a decent future, following Jesus might mess that up. If Jesus called you today, could you do it? What happens when Jesus calls the people that you greatly dislike, and they decide to take him up on his offer? Can you handle hanging out with them?

After Levi decides to follow, Jesus goes over to his house and hangs out. And
…many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him.
Mark 2:15

A good Jew did not go into a tax collectors house or eat with them, but Jesus did it anyway. Some translations say that while Jesus was having dinner, they were eating AND drinking with him. It brings up images of the Eucharist, and says that this is a messianic banquet in the dawning kingdom of God. [2] Jesus is making friends. Lots of them. It’s not just one tax collector. Many of them are following Jesus.

Jesus didn’t exclude them, marginalize them or show them the error of their ways by shaming them. He sat down and ate with them. The following statement of the scribes is understandable: “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:16

I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point. Peter, Andrew, James and John knew Levi from the tax booth in town. They may have had a grudge against him. But now everyone is having dinner together. Are they feeling a bit sheepish? Is dinner awkward? How are the conversations going between the other tax collectors and the four disciples? Are they worried about who might see them with their present company? I mean, it’s bad enough that they up and left their business and their family to follow Jesus (there’s enough stigma and shame to go along with that), but now they’re hanging out with the local thugs and partying up! When the scribes ask this question, do they even know what to say? “Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?” “I—; um—-; —well, you see…yes, why IS he eating with tax collectors and sinners?”

And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17

“Well boys, since these people are obviously ‘sinners’, and I’m a healer, I need to be with them…not those of you who think you’re already in good condition.” Ouch.

Is it easier to give up things willingly, or have things taken forcefully? Jesus might ask us to willingly give up the things that make us feel secure. Jobs, bank accounts, investment planning, homes and neighborhoods change. In an instant, these things can be taken away, altered by the market, crumbled by a natural disaster, or snatched away through death. Only the kingdom of God will remain. Levi followed Jesus and left his financial security, and Judas followed too, but he wasn’t happy with the way of the cross. He tried to gain financial security by betraying Jesus, and he shamefully killed himself when he realized what he had done. Jesus didn’t accommodate other people’s agendas or ideas of security. He went the way of the cross and said, “follow me.”

Jesus might also be asking us to willingly set aside our prejudices so that we can see the beauty of what he is doing in this world. He has the right to call someone like Levi: a tax collector. He can call a drug dealer; a homeless man; a woman of the streets; a person who struggles with depression; someone with no college degree, and even someone like you. The kingdom of God is radically and offensively inclusive. We aren’t forced to accept it. But rather, it frees us up to willingly include the people that Jesus would include at his table. The scribes ask, “Why is HE eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Maybe we should be asking, “Why aren’t WE eating with them?”

[1] Craig A. Evans, Stanley E. Porter eds., Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, Downers Grove: InverVarsity Press, 2000, 394. 

[2] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 81.[2]

Carry or be Carried

Mark 2:1-12

When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home, and many were gathered together so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.  Mark 2:1,2

In Capernaum is the remains Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. The courtyard of a home is where family life was centered, and there was only one door that opened to the street and maybe a couple of windows in the outer walls.  There are so many people at this location that there isn’t even room at the door!

Here is sketch of the layout of the house:

Imagine the waves from the Sea of Galilee nearby lapping quietly on the shore, and the voice of Jesus coming through the window of the main room of the house as he is speaking the word to the people that have gathered.  “The kingdom of God is at hand”, he says in a spirited voice.  “Don’t be worried—seek first the kingdom of God.”  Everyone is intently listening and straining to hear.

And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.  Mark 2:3-4

This group can’t get in to the courtyard without shoving people out of the way.  They decide to make a drastic move. That meant carrying the man over a shoulder, or using some kind of cloth to transport him to the roof, after using some kind of ladder.  The roof was often made of a thick layer of clay (packed with a stone roller), supported by mats of branches across wooden beams.[1]  They were sturdy and flat, and used for storage and sometimes for sleeping.[2]

Imagine being in the room where Jesus is teaching, hearing men walking on the roof, and then having clumps of mud and sticks falling on your head!  Everyone would probably stop to watch!  A grown man, paralyzed and lying down is going to need a big hole to get through.  How did they let the man down on his mat?  If you were the paralyzed man, it might feel very precarious! You might be worried about getting cut on the roof materials, or being dropped. Or, maybe you’re just thinking about being healed.  But when your friends get you through the roof,

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

‘Um, I don’t think that’s what this guy had in mind, Jesus.  I think his friends brought him here so that you could heal him.’ 

By announcing forgiveness of sins, Jesus has crossed a line.  Forgiveness of sins was available for ANY repentant Jew through the sacrificial system as stipulated by Torah.[3]  This man couldn’t go to the temple because he was paralyzed, and getting up to Jerusalem was an impossible task, and even with help, it was a dangerous and difficult climb.  There was a Talmudic saying that said, ‘No one gets up from his sick-bed until all his sins are forgiven,[4] so there may be an implication that his sin is keeping him paralyzed.

Pronouncing forgiveness of sin was supposed to be a priestly task.[5] They are not in the temple, and Jesus is not a priest.[6]  According to Jewish theology even the Messiah could not forgive sins.  But if you remember, in Mark 1, John the Baptist called people into the desert to be baptized, rather than going to the Temple.  Now, in Capernaum, the Temple activity is happening in Jesus.  He is asserting that he can do what only God could do.

But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:6-7

Notice that the scribes are simply thinking these things.  But that’s all they’ve been doing—thinking.  And sitting.  Action is taking place all around them, as four men work to get their friend through the roof.  That’s not something you see every day!  The scribes are not noted as standing, making room, or helping to bring the man in to get to Jesus.  They are sitting and analyzing…and what’s going on in their hearts is dangerous.  Jesus isn’t going to let this go. Maybe he sees their big eyes as they are looking at him, maybe with mouths hanging open, maybe their expressions moving from shock to outrage and then to disdain. 

Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?  Mark 2:8-9

Well, there’s an interesting question. It’s easy to SAY something, but the physical healing is harder to disprove.  If Jesus can heal the man, then his pronouncement of sins will HAVE to be valid,[7] and prove that he is God.

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”  Mark 2:10-12

Voila! Jesus has just proven that he has the power to forgive sins.  The man immediately gets up, picks up his pallet, and walks out.  This is a resurrection, my friends! The paralyzed man was powerless to help himself.  He was carried by others and lowered through the roof as if into a grave.  Jesus says, “Get up!  Rise up! Be raised from the dead!” Jesus gave him back not only his legs, but also his life!  He has forgiven his sins, AND restored him to community life.

There are times in life it’s difficult to approach Jesus.  When our sin is heavy.  When our depression makes it impossible.  When we don’t have the strength to do anything on our own willpower.   The paralytic man had friends—friends who had faith.  Jesus sees THEIR faith and what they were willing to do for their friend, and he healed the man. 

It’s proof that we need community.  In reflecting on this passage I see three things: 

1) Don’t be like the scribes, who just sat and thought negatively about the situation.  If you see someone in need, do something!  And don’t be cynical about the work of Jesus in their life. 

2) If you know someone who needs encouragement, maybe you need to pick up their mat and bring them to Jesus, because they might not be able to do it on their own.

3) If you are going through a difficult situation and you need someone to carry your faith, the church can be the place to pick up your mat and bring you to Jesus so that you can be healed—and forgiven.  Be willing to be carried.

[1] NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, p1624

[2] Mark L. Strauss, Mark, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, Mark 2:3-4.

[3] Mary Ann Beavis, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011 , 59.

[4] Morna Hooker, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991, 85. 

[5] Edwin K. Broadhead, Mark, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009, 22. 

[6] C. Clifton Black, Mark, Nashville: Abingdon, 2011 , 87. 

[7] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 77. 

Hide and Seek

Hide-and-Seek is the best game ever as a kid.  Hiding is especially fun if you’re small.  You can fit into small closet spaces and cupboards and places that no one else can fit or even think to look in.  A reverse version of the game is ‘backwards hide and seek’, where one person hides.  Everyone tries to find that person and then hides with him or her until everyone had discovered where the hider is. 

At the beginning of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is on the lookout for disciples.  So far we’ve only been introduced to Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.  Jesus found them and called them to follow, and they left everything to do so.  But it’s OK, because their first day in Capernaum is a smash hit.  They’ve watched people getting excited about Jesus’ authority as he has just taught in their synagogue with authority and cast out a demon.  Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, and sundown brings many suffering people who come looking for Jesus.

Can you imagine what the disciples must have been thinking?  ‘Jesus is turning out to be amazing!’  ‘Hey, we could use Peter’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum as home base for this new venture.’  ‘It won’t take long until everyone hears about this.  People will be flocking to come and see Jesus in action.  We could charge admission!’  However, things won’t work out that way.  

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a desolate place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for him…Mark 1:35-36

‘Um, John, have you seen Jesus?’

‘No, man.  I was just helping this guy over here find a place to lay down.’ 

‘James, have you seen him?’ 


‘Mom, any sign of Jesus?’  ‘No, dear.’

‘Andrew, did Jesus say where he was going?’  

‘He’s gone?  No, he didn’t say anything to me!’ 

‘Jesus just asked us to follow him, we’ve had an incredible day, and now he disappears?’ 

‘Maybe he went to the bathroom.’ 

‘Why would he take off like that?’

‘Where would he go?’ 

‘Should we be cool and wait a bit?’ 

‘Yeah, we could, but the line is backed up all the way to the lake, and people are still coming.’

‘Guys, we have to find him!’

There may be a sense of panic, anger and frustration as these young men come to the realization that someone is going to have to hunt Jesus down. 

Mark notes that he was in a desolate place, or in the Greek, ‘a wilderness place’. The wilderness has a load of theological significance as a place of chaos, or a reminder of where God led his people after coming out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land.  The wilderness was a place to meet God.  Mark has already informed us that Jesus went to the wilderness and was tested by the devil before his ministry began.  

I wonder how long it took these new disciples to find Jesus, as they go through the familiar village of Capernaum, on to the next village, and keep looking until they finally come to the wilderness—probably the last location they were expecting.  Jesus seems to have initiated a game of backwards hide and seek. 

…they found him, and said to him, “everyone is looking for you.” Mark 1:37

Have you ever been frustrated with Jesus?  Maybe you’ve prayed and you don’t see an immediate answer.  You look for something, and don’t seem to find it.  You want solutions to your problems, answers to your questions, and happy endings to your situation.  It may seem that Jesus is hiding, and that he’s doing it intentionally.  It can be frustrating to search for Jesus…and especially if you have an agenda.    

As the gospel of Mark progresses, almost everyone who seeks Jesus is doing so with either misguided or malicious intent.[1]  ‘Hey Jesus, your mother and brothers are looking for you.  They think you’re crazy.’  (Mark 3:32).  ‘Here come the Pharisees, and they’re looking to have an argument with you.’  (Mark 8:11-12) Later, the chief priests and scribes seek him in order to destroy him, (Mark 11:18) and then seek him in order to arrest him (Mark 12:12)

I’ll admit that I don’t always truly have the best intentions when seeking Jesus.  Do you?  The disciples have their own agenda.  They see people coming to be healed and want to get the show on the road!  But Jesus has an agenda, too—a kingdom agenda.  He wants to develop disciples who are willing to follow him.  So, when the disciples find him: 

He said to them, “let us go somewhere else (really? Somewhere else?) to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching him and falling on his knees before him, and saying, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Mark 1:37-40

While they are on the road again, they encounter a leper.  A leper is someone who may have had variety of skin problems and was required to keep his distance from other people because anyone or anything he touched would be considered unclean. He wants Jesus to make him clean so that he can come back and participate in community life.   

Indignant, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…Mark 1:41

Wait, what?  The Greek word could be rendered ‘moved with compassion’ or ‘indignant’.  Scholars disagree.  But why would Jesus be indignant, anyway?  Is it because the man asks “if you are willing?” Is it because Jesus sees the man who is ostracized from his community and is angry at it?  Or, is it because once touching the man, Jesus will be considered unclean and will be unable to enter the towns in which he intended to preach?[2]  Hmm…

Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him…Mark 1:41

It’s like a scene in slow motion.  Everyone is watching as Jesus stretches out his hand…mouths are opening in shock and horror… But wait!  Remember the other wilderness reference?  Stretching out the hand is Mark’s way to reference God’s saving power through the hand of Moses as he strikes Egypt with the plagues (Exodus 3:20), and stretched his hand over the sea to part the way for the people to cross on dry land (Exodus 14:21).  Now, Jesus is stretching out his hand towards this leper in the wilderness.  He has been cast out from his community, unable to sit at table with family and friends, living alone…and NO ONE touches him.  No hugs, no pats on the back, no comfort, no support.  Can you imagine?  Jesus’ touch may be the first he has had in a long time.  Picture the disciples holding their breath…’what is going to happen?’  Surprise!  Jesus doesn’t get infected—his touch brings healing.

Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. And he sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, and he said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to him from everywhere.  Mark 1:41-45

This man’s healing is the first step in the process to being let back in the community. Would you keep quiet about something like that?   Ironically, the leper and Jesus now trade places.  Jesus has touched the man, which technically makes him unclean.  But that makes Jesus in demand more than ever.  The leper leaves the wilderness to go back to his community, and because of his testimony, Jesus can’t go to the city without people mobbing him.  So he stays in the unpopulated areas, which is just another translation of the word for—(you guessed it)—wilderness.  Jesus is in a constant state of hide-and-seek. When the spotlight hones in on him in Capernaum, he moves to the wilderness.  The disciples finally find him, and following the testimony of the leper, the people leave their cities to find him in the wilderness, too. 

I’ve found that being a disciple of Jesus is a constant adjustment to my own agenda.  Jesus is person of private prayer, even when people seem to need him the most. He moves around and doesn’t let his disciples settle.  He seeks those on the margins of society and brings healing, even when it means facing his own marginalization.  Following Jesus can bring interruptions, uncertainties and interactions with people that are unsettling.  It’s not a path I would choose on my own, especially when it comes to hanging out in the wilderness.  I’d prefer staying where it’s comfortable and familiar; not where it’s difficult and could be discouraging.  And every time I think I have Jesus nailed down, he says, ‘come on, there’s work do to over here—over there—over there.  Inevitably, following Jesus also leads to a cross, where it’s not just uncomfortable, it’s downright terrifying!  Here’s the trajectory:   

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:34-36

Jesus isn’t disguising the end view, and he’s also not playing games.  It’s not that he’s actually hiding from us, yet he’s not staying where we’re comfortable, either.  He’s always on the move and wants us to seek and to find him, just as he is surely seeking and finding us. He is delightfully inviting people to join him on an adventure—where the wilderness will turn into a paradise, where brokenness leads to healing, and where even death leads to life.  So how about it?  Is anyone up for some hide-and-seek? 

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13) For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)

[1] C. Clifton Black, Mark, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011, 79. 

[2] George B. Telford, Jr., “Expository Articles: Mark 1:40-45”, Interpretation, January 1, 1982, 54-58, 56.

Regrouping the Groupies

After Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he goes to Galilee and begins calling some fishermen to follow him and become disciples. That all must have seemed well and good, but these guys don’t really know who Jesus is yet. They get to be the first groupies in a little known band, traveling around and seeing if this guy is going to hit the big time. First stop—the hometown of Peter and Andrew, a test to see what this guy has got when it comes to being on stage. Jesus doesn’t disappoint.

They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28

Picture of 1st century (foreground) and 4th century synagogue (background)

The four disciples that Jesus has first called are very familiar with Capernaum. They know the fishing holes AND they know how things work in the synagogue. There are ways of teaching and interacting with people that are expected of religious leaders. It seems like Jesus will be able to hold his own when it comes to standing in the synagogue, and not only with his teaching skills, but by casting out demons! Wow. But Mark’s gospel doesn’t highlight Jesus’ teaching. Nothing is written about what Jesus actually says! And he doesn’t linger on Jesus’ presence in the synagogue. Jesus immediately changes gears…and we are to change our focus, too…not only here, but in the entire trajectory of Mark’s gospel. Here’s what happens next…

And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And he came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them. When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And he healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. Mark 1:29-34

Picture–Peter’s mother-in-law’s house

Jesus goes next door after coming out of the synagogue. Scholars and archaeologists believe that the house was actually right next-door, just steps away. Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. Some people might have thought a fever was demonic or divine punishment for something. It is so disabling that she can’t offer hospitality to Jesus and the boys, and that’s why the illness gets mentioned to Jesus. It robs her of status and dignity.[1]Jesus walks in and takes the initiative, like he did in the synagogue: he takes her hand and raises her. This is the same word used for Jesus’ resurrection later in Mark. There is divine resurrection power at work. Her fever goes away, and Peter’s mother-in-law gets up and serves them.

Please don’t think of this passage as first century patriarchy and a woman’s role in society. The word here for ‘serve’ has overtones of Christian ministry throughout Mark. The same word appeared in Mark 1:13, where Jesus was served by angels; Jesus says that he has come to serve in Mark 10:45, and when Jesus is on the cross, Mark notes the women that were standing there who had followed him and served him. Part of what constitutes a disciple in Mark’s gospel is serving. Eugene Boring notes: This woman who has been healed and raised by Jesus performs a ministry [1]to the fledgling church, like later pastoral ministry.

And check this out: “When later archaeologists discovered Peter’s house in Capernaum, it appeared to be quite ordinary. Just like the period houses of this day, it consisted of a few small rooms clustered around two open courtyards. But after Jesus died, the function of this house changed dramatically. The house’s main room was plastered over from floor to ceiling, and the pottery changed from household pots and bowls, to storage jars and oil lamps, and indicated that the house may have become a place for the first Christian gatherings.”[2]

This house becomes a theological history of how worship of God moves from synagogue to houses, and to house churches…after the destruction of the temple, this ‘house’ will become the ‘house of prayer for all nations,’ the place of healing, table fellowship, and instruction of disciples. Peter’s mother-in-law was one of the first to show what service to Jesus looks like, and her house is now competing with the synagogue. The city is so small that word spreads fast, and by morning, the WHOLE CITY has gathered at the door, so to speak, and Jesus is doing what he did at the synagogue, but in a house.

As God’s groupies, the disciples had to be regrouped to see and think differently about the kingdom of God. And we do too. God’s power is not contained in or reserved for a synagogue…or a church, or cathedral. The kingdom of God is not reserved for those with religious power, but for those who have a relationship with Jesus. So…are our houses, our gatherings, and our presence allowing others to experience the power of God and become places of healing, freedom and wholeness? Something to think about.

You all fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

[1] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006, 66.

[2] Biblical archaeology: accessed February 25, 2019.

Going Fishing

I’m not really a fan of fishing.  I used to go with Jim when we were dating and first married, but I don’t really like being on the water.  I have memories of the lake my grandparents had a cottage on, and it was gooey, mucky and weedy, and scary to me.  After fishing on a few lakes that gave me the heebie jeebies, I decided that I would rather stay on shore than go on the water.  And I’d rather not fish at all. 

The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake.  It was called a Sea, even though I know of lakes that are much larger where I come from.  It also evoked memories of creation and chaos that were known in Ancient Near Eastern imagery and the Hebrew Scriptures.[1]  There was a lot of fear in getting on the sea.  It’s beautiful, but it’s scary.  I can relate to that. 

modern day fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee

Galilee is a prominent landmark in the region that Jesus travels in during his ministry. Fishermen were a big deal here. Peter and Andrew come from the town of Bethsaida, which means “house of hunting/fishing”.  They made their living by catching fish.  Until Jesus showed up.   

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  As he was going along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow him.  Mark 1:15-20

Jesus calls men who were already fishing, to take on a new kind of fishing.  They weren’t going to go out on the lake, they were going to work with people. That sounds much better to me, but then I realize that fishing Jesus’ way is pretty radical. 

Making a decision to take on a new profession usually takes some time and long conversations.  This isn’t some guys with a pole and some tackle enjoying a good time.  This is commercial business gear in a professional career.[2]  But they immediately leave their dad in the boat with the hired men for an opportunity to do a different kind of fishing! 

This kind of life is difficult.  It’s not a side-hobby. It takes energy and effort for sure!  Why would you leave the family business to go traipsing across the country with a man who isn’t approved of in society? Why would you leave your family to fend for themselves, while assisting Jesus in helping people you don’t even know? Why would you risk your reputation and your future connections that could bring you a decent income and become a fisher of people?  Why would you hang out with people that don’t have anything in common with you, eat with them, work with them, and back them up when they are in trouble?  Why would you care about people who have nothing except Jesus in common?

…because you gain the benefit of true family.  You get to continue being a son, daughter, spouse, parent, but to follow Jesus is also to be a part of a new community, where you gain new brothers and sisters and experience ties that are stronger than blood.  

That’s a good thing, because following Jesus is scarier than fishing.  Fishing with Jesus means breaking ties with former ways of life, with the status quo of participation in society, and it challenges what is certain, loosens the grip on institutions, politics and static theology.  It’s a life-long process of change, in which we must go into the chaos, and into the water, having been baptized into a new way of living, working, and community that will alter our lives forever.

William Willemon writes: “On the bank of some dark river, as we are thrust backward (into the water), onlookers will remark, “They could kill somebody like that.”  To which old John (the Baptist) might say, “Good, you’re finally catching on.”[3]  Life with Jesus is death to everything else, but it’s infinitely more beautiful and dynamic than life without Jesus.    

I might not like fishing in general, but I’ve started fishing with Jesus: his way, and am daily asking for courage to trust him when it looks like chaos, to keep going when it isn’t easy, and to revel in the relationships that are deeper and richer than I’ve ever known.   

Anyone else up for fishing? 

[1] M. Eugene Boring, Mark: A Commentary, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, 58.

[2] Black, C. Clifton Mark, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011, 70. 

[3] William Willimon, ‘Repent’, found in Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent and Easter, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2008, 9,10.