Mark 1:16-20


Mark, Alan Cole, Inter-Varsity Press, 1961

Medical Vocation and Generation X, Jamie Harrison & Robert Innes, Grove booklets, 1997

New International Biblical Commenatry on Mark, Larry W. Hurtado, Paternoster, 1983

Open to Judgement, Rowan Williams, Darton Longman & Todd, 1994

The Disciples of Mark: The Function of a Narative Role (1977), Robert C. Tannehill in: The Interpretation of Mark, ed. William R. Telford, 1985

The Logos Library: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (CD-ROM)

The Message of Mark, Donald English, Inter-Varsity Press, 1992

The New Bible Commentary Revised, Inter-Varsity Press, 1970

The New Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press,1962

Introductory remarks

I'm going to refer to the previous two sermons in this series. The first sermon on Mark's gospel was by Mark: so for sake of clarity, I'll refer to the writer as Mark and the vicar as Father Mark (mostly because it'll wind him up). The second was by Nigel who, for sake of clarity, we'll call Nigel.

Like Nigel, I first approached this passage thinking "short passage, short sermon - well know passage, easy sermon". Like him, though, I've found so much that I wanted to speak about that I've spent much of my thinking time throwing ideas away, rather than trying to come up with some.

Interesting trivia about the passage

Fishers of men

The expression "fishers of men", according to Cranfield, is somewhat odd as the Old Testament uses of this imagery were always negative (Je 16:16, Ezk 29:4ff, Am 4:2, Hab 1:14-17), although the Jeremiah passage at least has the fishers sent by God. The use of the phrase here may be because Peter and company were fishermen, equally (or even additionally) it may be the idea of God taking the negative and using it for His positive. Also, as Hurtado points out, the language is active: they are to become Jesus' companions, yes, but to enter into His mission, not to observe it. To be part of Jesus' work, not just witnesses to it. Picking up a common theme in Mark, they were to get inside the Son of God's presence on earth, not to stand outside of it. Whatever the reasons for the phrase, they were fishermen and Jesus spoke in their language: He met them where they were and encouraged them to come with Him to somewhere new.

But not completely new. Cole points out in his commentary on Mark that by calling them to be fishers, Jesus called them to be what they were - for Him. Similarly, we are called to be what we already are: musicians, teachers, parents, friends, mechanics, medics, authors, scientists, artists etc etc etc: for Jesus.

The middle class

The fishermen that we see called in this passage are often portrayed as working class. However, the Zebedee brothers, James & John, had employees, thus making them middle class.

Who was called before & who after miracles

The week before we began this sermon series, I suggested that you might like to sit down and read Mark's gospel in one sitting. It took me about an hour when I did it. One of the things I noticed was that in this passage in Mark, Peter, Andrew, James and John are all called just after John the Baptist has been put into prison and Jesus begins preaching. As we shall see next week, Jesus then performs a load of miracles (Mk 1:23-2:12) before the remaining eight get called. So these four believe and follow before seeing miracles, the others see before believing. Faith and the call to apostleship both happen, although the order is different, showing that God deals with us all differently.

As an aside, Jn 1:35-42 implies that Simon and Andrew had met Jesus prior to the call recorded in Mark, but it was still before any public miracles had taken place.

Who were the disciples?

Let's do some maths.

In Mark we find Simon (named Peter), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananean & Judas Iscariot. Matthew has the same list (not too surprising for, as Father Mark told us, Matthew probably had Mark's gospel to hand when he wrote his). Luke though, gives us Judas son of James and Simon the Zealot in place of Thaddaeus and Simon the Cananean. So, were there really 14 disciples?

Matthew 10:2-4     Mark 3:16-19       Luke 6:13-16

Simon (Peter)      Simon (Peter)      Simon (Peter)

Andrew             Andrew             Andrew

James              James              James

John               John               John

Philip             Philip             Philip

Bartholomew        Bartholomew        Bartholomew

Matthew            Matthew            Matthew

Thomas             Thomas             Thomas

James son of       James son of       James son of
Alphaeus           Alphaeus           Alphaeus

Thaddaeus (or      Thaddaeus          Judas son of James

Simon the          Simon the          Simon the Zealot
Cananean           Cananean

Judas Iscariot     Judas Iscariot     Judas Iscariot

I have read an article explaining how you might marry these up, but it doesn't really matter as actually, of course, there were loads of disciples, as John's gospel clearly shows us. The twelve were both disciples by virtue of being believers and were later on called apostles (Mk 3v14) because they were commissioned leaders. Others beside the twelve were also called to itinerancy (i.e. to leave all & follow Jesus) (Jn 6:66, Lk 8:2-3, 23:49, 55). Others became followers of Jesus but didn't follow him around (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea for example). Luke has the highest specific number of disciples, at one point sending out 72 of them (Lk 10:1-16), although John describes many initial believers who fall away when Jesus' teaching doesn't conform to their expectations. Interestingly, John also describes these people as "disciples", suggesting that becoming a disciple is far from the end of the story and is by no means permanent. (2 Pet 1:10-11)

There are also many other apostles mentioned in the New Testament (Mathias is debatable, although Paul, Barnabus, James the brother of Jesus and Silas are mentioned as such). The most interesting one of all is one mentioned in Paul's greetings at the end of Romans: often translated "Junias" (i.e. male) there is much evidence that it is actually "Junia", making her the only female apostle to be mentioned. Indeed, newer translations are using "Junia" as does, interestingly, the Authorised Version.

Those that we do know about, though, come from a mix of backgrounds: fishermen, tax collectors, Pharisees, revolutionaries, and some who the only thing we know about them is their name. They were male, female, working class, middle class, upper class and those that had no class whatsoever. Sounds like a church, doesn't it? Which, of course, is part of the point.

What were the disciples?

The Logos Library: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels characterises the way in which the disciples are described in the four Gospels. Matthew paints a picture of them as "examples with a commission", portraying the historical disciples as examples of what it means to be a disciple - both positively and negatively. Mark is more "Servants of the Redemptive Servant" (which I'll come back to). Luke is "Followers on the costly way", foreshadowing the usage of "disciple" as a synonym for "believer in Christ" that Luke uses in Acts. John is "Believers marked by Jesus". After some early disciples leave Jesus (Jn 6:66) the word comes to mean "one who professes to believe on Jesus for eternal life".

But we're studying Mark's gospel, so how does he portray them and what themes should we look out for as we read about them there? Although Mark has the highest regard for the disciples, he uses their failures to instruct his readers. Mark uses the historical disciples to show his readers how difficult it is to grasp the mystery of Jesus and the cross. The disciples in Mark's Gospel are privileged members of the kingdom of God, and their incomprehension comes from their worldly expectations. They encounter the things of God and they are outside of their expectation and experience. They find them hard to fit into their worldview, to assimilate into their existing picture of how things are. Discipleship instruction directs them to think God's way, the way of suffering and the cross through servanthood - it's worth noting that the major passages on servanthood (Mk 9:33-37 & 10:35-45) are within the larger section on discipleship (8:27-10:45).

Disciples weren't unique to Jesus. We read of John the Baptist's disciples (Mk 2:18), the disciples of the pharisees (Mt 22:15-16; Mk 2:18) and the disciples of Moses (Jn 9:24-29). A major difference, though, was that Jewish disciples would follow their master around, often literally imitating him (obviously a bit of a problem for Moses' disciples and, after Salome, John's. "What's up with Fred?" "Oh, he's lost his head over a woman" "One of John's disciples, then"). The goal of Jewish disciples was someday to become masters, or rabbis, themselves and to have their own disciples who would follow them. But Jesus' disciples were to remain disciples of their Master and teacher and to follow him only (cf. Mt 23:1-12). Even though it is probable that Jesus' disciples memorized much of his teaching and passed it on as the tradition of the church, the disciples were committed more to his person than to his teaching. Following Jesus means togetherness with him and service to him while travelling on the Way. Being a disciple of Jesus is far more about following and imitating the person of Christ than memorizing His teachings. Of course they overlap as one informs the other in an iterative-recursive fashion, but the prime directive is to learn how to live, not to learn how to recite.

Professional Christians

What (or who) do you think of when you I use the phrase "professional christian"? Archbishop Rowan Williams? Ned Flanders? Yourself?

The word "profession" has two distinct meanings. On one hand it is that which you do for pay: your career, if you like. It is also that which you profess, i.e. what you believe; what you are. Those careers that are often described as "the professions" (lawyers, doctors, teachers, clergy etc.) tend to come with the impression that that is all there is to the person: that their whole being is summed up in their career. As Harrison & Innes put it in "Medical Vocation and Generation X" (a theological examination of vocation with particular emphasis on medicine), "In return for his special status in the community the doctor gave patients his benevolent and unceasing care. He would come out immediately if they had need of him, whatever the time of day or night. His personal identity merged into his professional role. The title 'Doctor' did not refer to his academic qualifications but was the way one addressed the particular character - much the same as the mode of addressing the 'Vicar'. Whatever his domestic circumstances or private interests they were fashioned within the embracing and over-riding 'character' of the doctor." Note the sentence in the middle of that quote: "His personal identity merged into his professional role". Not surprisingly, some didn't like it. Harrison & Innes quote Allen from "Doctors and their careers" as saying: "I still regret it. It's a frightful price to pay for being good at science."

Nevertheless, a profession as a way of employment and as a way of summing up your character do merge into one another. Likewise, our christian profession and character should merge into one another.


What is calling?

A calling is often portrayed as a summons from God to a higher office: David to be king, Samuel to be prophet, Paul to stop killing christians and become an evangelist and author of half the new testament. As Rowan Williams puts it: "the trouble with the idea of vocation is that most of us, if we are honest, have a rather dramatic idea of it". But it isn't. The calling we see in Scripture is God calling men, women and children to serve Him. What that service might entail isn't spelt out, although we can get an idea from the lists of spiritual gifts in Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4 & 1 Pet 4. The key point is, though, that it's a calling to serve. That may take the form of evangelist, vicar, prophet or king. But it equally might not.

H. Kvalbein correctly declares that "it is basically wrong to think of the 'disciples' as models for some special or 'higher quality' Christians among other Christians." All of those who truly believed were called disciples in Jesus' day, and they are examples of how every Christian today should grow in discipleship.

In common with many others, Harrison & Innes equate calling with vocation. They describe being "summoned out of indifference". Prior to the summons, you are aware that others may be interested in a subject, topic or way of life but it contains no interest for you. Until, that is, you are summoned. A call, they argue, has three distinct parties: someone who calls (Jesus), someone who is called (me & you) and those to whom the called is sent (those to whom you minister). We come back again to the notion of profession: a doctor-patient relationship is a professional one rather than a contractual one as a contract is for mutual benefit whereas a professional relationship is for the good of the recipient. It may benefit the professional also, of course, but that is neither the prime purpose nor the defining characteristic of the relationship. Nigel told us that he got a great deal out of preparing his sermon - yet he didn't set out to prepare it for his benefit, but for ours.

Although discipleship was a voluntary matter with other types of master-disciple relationships of the first century, with Jesus the initiative lay with his call (Mk 1:17; 2:14; Mt 4:19; 9:9; cf. Lk 5:10-11, 27-28) and his choice (Jn 15:16) of those who would be his disciples. The response to the call involves recognition and belief in Jesus' identity (Jn 2:11; 6:68-69), obedience to his summons (Mk 1:18, 20) and counting the cost of full allegiance to him (Lk 14:25-28; Mt 19:23-30). His calling is the beginning of something new. It means losing one's old life (Mk 8:34-37; Lk 9:23-25) and finding new life in the family of God through obeying the will of the Father (Mt 12:46-50).

Calling doesn't happen, once and for all, at a fixed date. Even Paul (whose conversion on the Damascus road would seem to be the clear rebuttal of this idea) referred to himself as "set apart from my mother's womb" (Gal 1:15). The realisation of our vocation is not a blinding flash, but a point at which it all makes sense and we realise what it is that we've been headed for all along. It's one of the reasons for vocational examiners and the idea that you should never identify your own spiritual gifts: the question, as Williams puts it, is "Is this actually you we've got here? Or is it another defence, another game?" Or to put it another way, are we really us or are we playing at being someone else?

Who is called?

In the Bible, various people and groups are called by God to serve Him:

Hagar (Gen 21:17)

Abraham (Gen 22:11ff)

Moses (Ex 3:4, 19:3ff, 24:16)

Samuel (1 Sam 3:4ff)

Isaiah (Is 49:1)

The city (Mic 6:9)

Jesus (Matt 2:15)

Sinners (Mt 9:13, Mk 2:17, Lk 5:32)

The twelve (Matt 10:1, Lk 6:13)

Jesus' disciples (Matt 15:32, Lk 6:13)

The crowd (Mk 8:34)

Lazarus (Jn 11:43)

You and your children and all who are far off (Acts 2:39)

Ananias (Acts 9:10)

Barnabus and Saul (Acts 13:2)

Paul (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1)

People from among all the gentiles (Rom 1:5)

You (Rom 1:6, 1 Cor 1:9)

Slaves (1 Cor 7:21ff)

Freemen (1 Cor 7:22ff)

Aaron (Heb 5:4)

You should be able to find yourself in that list. And yet, calling is often portrayed as the preserve of the super-spiritual. "Only the best is good enough for God, so only the best get called", goes the argument. However, this places a human meaning of worth and, particularly, the word "best". In fact, only perfection is good enough for God (Lev 21:21, 1 Thes 4:7). Therefore, by that argument, no-one gets called. But people do, therefore the original argument is, as Douglas Adams might have put it, a pile of fetid dingoes kidneys. Mathematicians call this a "proof by contradiction" for those of you that are interested in such things. Consequently, though, we can reliably assert that God calls everyone. But does everyone respond? Clearly some don't (Is 65:12, 66:4, Jer 7:13, Gal 1:6) - but that doesn't mean they weren't called in the first place.

What am I called to do?

That's between you and God. I would earnestly encourage you to find out, by asking Him. Just one point - be prepared for the possibility that you may find out that you're already doing it. As Williams puts it: "to talk about God as your creator means to recognise at each moment that it is his desire for you to be, and so his desire for you to be there as the person you are. It means he is calling you by your name, at each and every moment, wanting you to be you."


The major points again:

  1. we are called to be what we already are: musicians, teachers, parents, friends, mechanics, medics, authors, scientists, artists etc etc etc: for Jesus.
  2. becoming a disciple is far from the end of the story and is by no means permanent.
  3. Mark uses the historical disciples to show his readers how difficult it is to grasp the mystery of Jesus and the cross.
  4. Being a disciple of Jesus is far more about following and imitating the person of Christ than memorizing His teachings.
  5. our christian profession and character should merge into one another.
  6. a professional relationship is for the good of the recipient
  7. The realisation of our vocation is not a blinding flash, but a point at which it all makes sense
  8. be prepared for the possibility that you may find out that you're already doing what God called you to do

All are called. Your calling is your vocation is your profession: it is part of who you are. Like Jeremiah in Jer 20:9 who had to speak for it was what God had made him to do, we are incomplete if we hold back from doing what God made us to do. If you like, you are called by God to be you. Called to be you where He places you. He may well call you off to be you somewhere else, but He's still calling you. He doesn't call you to be someone else.

All are called. You may, of course, have been called and responded to it and be where you're supposed to be, doing what you're supposed to do, living out your profession as a Christian. Whilst many of us are still searching, some have found. May we all both come to that point and know it.

Fnally, All are called yet not all respond. Which side of the fence are you going to land on? Are you going to be you, in God's service, or are you going to be you, in your own service. To put it bluntly: are you going to profess Christ crucified and be a professional christian, or not?

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