ENGAGING ALL NEIGHBORHOODS – WHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS?
On the Sundays leading up to Lent we are taking a look at the Mission Statement here at First Presbyterian – Disciples Making a Difference –and on Sunday, Jan 21 Marvin will be preaching on the 2nd of our 4 E statements which is Engaging All Neighborhoods. He has chosen the lectionary Jonah passage which is fitting but I’m rather drawn to Mark’s gospel account of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him. Last week we heard from John’s gospel how Jesus issued a rather intriguing invitation of Come and See. In contrast Mark’s account reads more as both a command and a promise. The command is to drop everything and follow. The promise is that if they do that Jesus will give them a makeover. They will still be fishermen but their catch will be entirely different.
In previous readings of this story I have to admit that I have placed it in the context that I know. In other words, I have imagined these first apostles as leaving a family business, a private enterprise that provided for their immediate families and maybe a few others. My reading this week however, has pointed me in a different direction. Old Testament Scholar K.C. Hansen points out that the fishing industry, as well as all of the economy, was under Roman control. This meant that as far as Rome was concerned Caesar owned all the water and all the fish in the sea. Fishing would have been state regulated and controlled with most of the catch exported to feed the urban elite and all the while the Romans would collect exorbitant taxes every time the fish were sold. It would have been illegal for a Palestinian to catch even one fish for their own dinner table. Even with all the fish in the sea within reach most of the people would go hungry.
This changes a great deal about what Jesus is calling his followers to do. Leaving a family business is one thing. Leaving a corrupt state controlled enterprise is something else. This adds a political and socio-economic edge to Jesus’ call to repent, believe the Good News, and follow him. It means laboring for God’s Kingdom of justice rather than Caesar’s oppressive rule. Which makes me wonder how we are being called to follow Jesus as we seek to Engage All Neighborhoods. Can we really engage neighborhoods only by speaking good news without working for justice? I admit I haven’t completely thought out all the dimensions of this but it does seem that Jesus may have been more of a political revolutionary than I have thought.