Follow Jesus Immediately?

Follow Jesus Immediately?
The gospel of Mark is fascinating and challenging because he challenges the reader to
use his or her imagination. Did you know that for centuries the early church had a very
low opinion of the gospel of Mark? Mark is the shortest gospel and the Greek is not
very elegantly styled. So most leaders in the church viewed it as a sort of a cliffs notes
version of a gospel. It’s the one you would read if you didn’t have time to devote to the
more lengthy and stylized gospels of Matthew or Luke. But in recent times, we have
come to appreciate that Mark forces the reader to not just listen to the story passively
but engages the reader in co-creating the story by filling in the gaps with our
This is most obvious in the way that Mark ends his gospel story. If you go home and
look at the end of the gospel of Mark, you’ll notice something very curious. Mark’s
gospel ends with chapter 16, verse 8 saying, “Trembling and bewildered, the women
went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were
afraid.” That’s it. The end. No resurrection appearances of Jesus. No report of the
women or disciples overcoming their fear and rejoicing in the good news. If your Bible
is a decent version, it will note a shorter ending of Mark and a longer ending. But
these were added later by scribes who just had to finish the story. They couldn’t let it
end like that. Mark however it seems purposely ended the story here making each
person who hears it finish the story. The ending then becomes your own confession.
Your own gospel. How do you overcome your fear to be bearers of the good news like
these women? It’s not a matter of just listening to what Mark thinks and writes. In fact,
there isn’t just the gospel according to Mark anymore, but it becomes the gospel
according to Mark and insert your own name here. In fact, we should say that as we
introduce the reading of the gospel. The holy gospel according to St. Mark and (say
your name). Glory to you, O Lord.
Have you heard this before? Did you know that you have a hand in actually writing the
gospel story today? Probably not. In our age of reason, we have lost respect for the
power of imagination to convey deeper truth. But if we are willing to go there, the
significance of this of course is huge. We can’t approach the lessons from Mark as if
he is simply reporting events and being brief about it. Mark is brief in order to allow for
our imaginations to be fully engaged. He leaves room for us to co-create the story with
him. In fact it is dangerous to read Mark’s gospel without this understanding.
In our lesson for today, for instance, if we don’t engage our imaginations in the telling
of the story, we miss its significance entirely. Jesus goes out and calls the disciples.
He says only, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they leave
everything and follow him. Without using our imaginations to fill in the gap, we can
come away with the impression that the disciples were simply completely captivated by
Jesus. It may seem as if they had no choice in whether to follow or not. They appear
like puppets on a string. Jesus says, “Follow me” and they respond mindlessly, “Yes,
master.” Even if you just picture these disciples as just having something special
within them in being ready to drop everything and dedicate their lives to the gospel
immediately, the lesson becomes less and less about us and our experience because
we simply can’t identify with that. I can’t identify with that and I have not once heard
anyone tell me their faith story and say, “I was happily working in a prosperous family
business. I heard Jesus call me and I dropped everything and left my family behind to
follow him.” Hopefully, we all have our moments when we hear Jesus call, rise to the
occasion and dedicate ourselves to following him into an unknown future, but hopefully
if it is a big change in our life this comes after much deliberation and prayer and
consultation. In fact, if you showed up at the seminary today and told them that you
heard Jesus calling you into the ministry this morning and drove right there, they would
tell you to go home and keep listening and see if this call is affirmed over time and by
others around you as well. If you showed up at an Armed Forces recruitment center
with a similar story of how God was calling you to serve in the military, they would I
hope at least send you to get a psych exam before inducting you. Same goes for most
anything else, except perhaps joining a cult. Following anyone and abandoning
vocation, family and friends without question immediately simply doesn’t relate to our
world, nor should it.
If we use our imaginations a little bit, we may surmise that Peter, Andrew, James and
John must have known Jesus before this story. Galilee is a small area. They must
have known Jesus growing up and talked about their future plans to save the world.
They were only waiting for the right time to begin. When John is arrested, Jesus
knows this is the right time and he calls his team together. Let’s go fish for men. It’s
time. Let’s do this thing.
We get perhaps more of a glimpse of what it may have been like for these early
disciples, but we still haven’t co-created the story. To put it another way, we’re using
our imaginations but only to reconstruct an historical event. We need to do more than
that. Mark wants us to own the gospel so that it is our story too.
I shared with the children about being fishers of men. And we used our imaginations to
think about what that might mean for sharing the good news. But actually there is
more. I don’t think that Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men” to steer them and
us toward a better evangelism method. I think he says that in order to point out the
continuity of their new mission with the life they have lived up till then. God isn’t calling
them to something entirely different, but to see God in everything that they have done
up to this point even as they are called into something new.
We simply can’t picture dropping everything to follow Jesus immediately. But what if
we were to turn that around. What if everything we are already doing contains the love
of Christ already within it? I was checking out at Hills a couple weeks ago and one of
the clerks, I won’t say who because I did not get his permission to share this story, he
said, “So you’re off to do God’s work now, huh?” “Yes.” I replied. “And so are you.” I
was on my way out the door so I didn’t stop to clarify, but I think he got my meaning.
Working in a hardware store can be just as much God’s work as being a pastor. And
it’s not God’s work only if you put religious signs on everything. “Sleds for Christ—
$12.” “Nuts and bolts for the Kingdom, 12 cents.” “Mission M&Ms—12 dimes.”
Twelve is a significant number in the Bible right? Anyway, we do God’s work not just
when we evangelize or proclaim Christ, but whenever we live honorably and serve
others with kindness and humility. And that we can and must do immediately.
Where ever you are in your life, whether you are a homemaker, a parent, grand-parent,
a salesman, teacher, manager, cook or clerk, God is working through you and creating
his kingdom in the way you serve others in love. Jesus proclaims, “The kingdom of
God has come near, turn toward God and believe in the good news.” Follow Jesus in
whatever it is that you do and you will be essential in the building up of God’s kingdom.
God doesn’t just create his kingdom out of thin air or force it upon us as if we had no
choice, but God is always inviting, always forgiving, always inspiring the best in us to
shine for his glory. Use your imagination. Where is God calling you? How is God
immediately present in your life? This is after all the holy Gospel according to St. Mark
and (insert your name here).