Too cryptic.
That’s the sense I often have when reading the Gospel of Mark.

By the
time the reader starts the sixteenth verse, Jesus has already been baptized
by John in the Jordan River, survived forty days of temptation by Satan
in the wilderness with wild beasts and comforting angels, gotten the
news of the Baptizer’s arrest, and proclaimed the central message of
his own ministry:

time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent,
and believe in the good news.


Yes, in
a sense, it’s all one really needs to know. But there’s something enriching
to have some genealogical info about the savior of the world (Matthew),
narratives about what happened in the year before Jesus’ birth (Luke),
the birth stories themselves with a pastoral call from nearby shepherds
(Luke again) and the visit of the Magi (Matthew again), and a philosophical
discourse that opens up the meaning of it all (John).

But these
add-ons are evidently only fluff for cryptic Mark.

So we’re
not surprised that this writer boils down the beckoning of the first
disciples to just four verses:

along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting
a net into the sea – for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them,
“Follow me and I will make you fish for people”. And immediately they
left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, Jesus
saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat
mending the nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their
father Zebedee in the boat with the hired help, and followed him.

(16 – 20)

Matthew copies Mark almost word-for-word, both Luke and John give us
much fuller (but different) accounts of these elective events.

My impulse
is to fill in what Mark (and Matthew) leave out – to let the imagination
have its play. It might go something like this:

day while walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus caught
a glimpse of two fishers repeatedly throwing their net out into the
water. Sometimes, when they drew in their net, there was nothing to
retrieve; other times the two fishers would gather a few fish and
toss them into a pail. But they just kept doing the same thing over
and over again: casting out the net, pulling it in, fetching whatever
fish had been trapped, and then starting the process once again. Jesus
stopped and started talking to the two fishers, who he found out were
brothers, named Simon and Andrew. Finally, he asked them: “Why are
you frittering away your life doing the same thing hour after hour,
day after day, month after month, year after year? What would you
think about forgoing all of this and following me, and fishing for
people instead? What would you think of joining me in announcing some
amazingly good news about what God is doing to bring great change
to the world and asking people to give up their past ways of doing
things and to become a part of the new community that God is creating?”
It didn’t take long for them to make a shared decision. Simon and
Andrew dropped their nets and chose to follow Jesus.

a little ways down that same seashore, Jesus saw a crew of fishers
in a boat and he went to talk with them. They weren’t fishing at the
time, but mending their nets, which was tedious work. After some conversation,
Jesus asked them – just as he had asked Simon and Andrew – why they
were frittering their life away with this boring work; and he invited
them, too, to follow him and become menders not of nets but of people’s
lives, fishers of people for a radically different kind of meaningful
life in a community of justice and peace and reconciliation that God
was already creating. And two of those in the boat, also brothers,
left their father Zebedee and the rest of the crew and, like Simon
and Andrew, followed Jesus. Their names were James and John.

the way I’d have written the story, with a little editing here and there.

* * * *

one goes with the original or some version that’s a product of the imagination,
the point is essentially the same: most of the world’s people – most
of us – are caught up in frittering their/our lives away. Even when
we make changes in our lives, those changes so often turn out to be
just tinkering changes that lead us back to frittering our lives away
in some different manner.

And it
isn’t that we just find ourselves in this predicament in our personal
and family and social lives. We find that this is our situation in our
public lives as well, whether we’re on the cusp of change out of shame
or promise.

Here in
the State of Illinois (where I am writing), we know all about both shame
and promise: the change that will have to come from the shame of a governor
who it seems pretty clearly abused power, and the promise of change
for our nation and the world that one of our own brings to the country’s

In the
State, the likelihood is that some tinkering will take place – probably
as little as politically possible – but we’ll manage to find a lot of
new ways to waste the public’s purse for the personal gain of a few,
new ways to deny poor kids the kind of education that will give them
a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty, new ways to leave families
without the kind of health care they need, new ways to create hurdles
for jobs and services and opportunities they need to become full participants
in society. We’ll probably fritter away the best chance to re-form,
to transform, our political system itself into something that
resembles an operating democracy.

In our
nation and the world, the outlook seems more promising with a change
of administrations. But for all the reversals that are pledged on so
many fronts, the political and economic paradigms still remain fundamentally
the same. Huge amounts of money will be spent to salvage an economy
structured on consumerism and self-interest. Immense efforts will be
undertaken to restore the dominant place of the United States in the
world’s commerce and political maneuvering. Significant endeavors will
be devoted to making sure that an imbalance of power be maintained in
places like the Middle East so that domestic constituencies can be mollified.

changes being put in place? Yes, even important ones.

But on
a grander scale of things? I’m afraid we’re just tinkering with the
systems that are in place. Frittering away the opportunities for a new
created order.

* * * *

The sad
fact is that those of us who think that we have accepted the invitation
of Jesus to follow him are so deeply involved in the tinkering.

And, therefore,
we are frittering away our personal and public lives.

So maybe
more than doing an updated, imaginative, and expanded version of Jesus’
call to his disciples, we need to listen again to what, cryptically
stated, he said was at stake:

time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent,

and believe in the good news.

Add new comment


  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Subscribe to CRS Main Feed