John the baptizer had been preaching a message of repentance, marked by baptism, for the forgiveness of sins and was well known in the Jewish community (Mark 1:4). As the last Old Testament prophet, he had the mission to prepare the people of Israel for their coming Messiah. We know from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 14:3-5) that as part of the role of prophet within this community, John confronted the Jewish political leader, Herod, for marital infidelity so that Herod might repent and be ready to receive the good news of God. But Herod responded by throwing John in prison. This backdrop for the gospel reading today provides us with not only a reference for when what comes next happened, but provides us with one example of how one can respond to the call to repent. You can try to silence the messenger, but the message will still ring in your ears.
Jesus continues John’s message: repent and believe because the kingdom of God, God’s reign, is about to break in. To repent means to change a portion or all of the central core of one’s being – one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior – so that one is more closely aligned with God’s will. Repentance can refer to a one time, major overhaul of one’s life or the small, day to day course corrections that happen as we live and learn what God’s will is in a situation. To believe means more than simply accepting a claim to be true. To believe means to trust with all of one’s self so that how one feels about and thinks about a concept aligns with one’s actions. The good news is that God’s rule of the world is about to break in and the call to repent and believe is a call to participate in God’s kingdom. What do we, as a church community, need to adjust in order for our actions to more fully align with our belief about the good news of God’s kingdom?
Repenting and believing for these fishermen looked like leaving their means of making a living in order to do the will of God for their lives. There is continuity in their work: those who were once fishing for fish in order to survive will now fish for people. God used their skills. Repentance doesn’t always mean a complete denial of who you were before you turned to God. What skills are we now practicing that God calls us to transform from survival skills to skills that promote God’s coming kingdom?
When Jesus came into Galilee, he was returning to his hometown. The people that are mentioned in this reading knew Jesus – if they hadn’t grown up with him, they surely had met him in the market place or at synagogue. We know from John’s Gospel (John 1:35-42) that at least Andrew knew who Jesus was because John the baptizer had told him. So when Jesus called to the fishermen and invited them to follow him, this invitation was not “out of the blue” but was in the context of relationship. Immediately, without hesitation, Simon and Andrew, James and John left their nets to follow Jesus. James and John left their father in the boat with the hired hands, essentially walking away from family and putting the family business at risk! Jesus’ invitation is to take risks and make sacrifices for the sake of God’s kingdom. But this invitation to follow without hesitation comes from one that is known and trusted. What do we need, as church, in order to believe and follow Jesus without hesitation?