“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” Mark 1:14
Reading the Gospel today, it is important not just to read it, but to try to get inside the minds of the people who were there. These men Jesus meets alongside the Sea of Galilee aren’t men of the world, they aren’t much travelled, they aren’t cosmopolitan, they are hard-working, small-time fishermen. They have probably never travelled more than a few miles from home. Perhaps they have been up to Jerusalem to attend a religious festival, but that would depend on having the money to do so, and how much money would have been made labouring for a small catch when dozens of other men were also fishing there?
It is unquestionable that these men, to whom Jesus goes, are traditional and conservative. Life for them is something that is unchanged from one generation to the next. They are men who would have had a very strong sense of place, and for them the place to which they belong is the shores of Lake Galilee. If anyone wanted to see how strong was this sense of place, this attachment to their life and to their work, then look what happens when Jesus dies and they think that everything is lost, look at where the risen Lord goes to find his friends. They all return to the shores of Galilee.
Saint Mark’s words in Chapter 1 Verse 20, “At once they left their nets and followed him,” are words that should be taken lightly. Imagine a person’s home area, think about all of their memories, all of their attachments, and think about them being prepared just to let go of everything. Not just letting go of the past, but letting go of the present as well – family, house, job, possessions, friends, everything. Think about what these men gave up to follow this Jesus.
The people Jesus calls as followers are the sort of men who would have been termed as “blokes” in England in the 1960s. They were ordinary, working men. They were not especially religious, they were not highly educated, they were neither wealthy nor influential. They were the sort of men who might have been met on the bus or the train in the early mornings before the white collar commuters start appearing: readers of The Star, The Sun or The Mirror, not the Times.
Jesus goes to these men – these men who would have never gone anywhere, these men whose lives followed a hard daily routine, these men who would have been wedded to family and home and community, and he says, “come on, lads. We’re starting something new.”
Looking at the church today it is hard to imagine that the words read in churches this morning once brought such a reaction from working men. Who would be prepared to leave their home and family now for the sake of what Jesus says?
It might be argued that things were different then. People would say that First Century Palestine cannot be compared with Twenty-First Century England. But those Galilean fishermen could probably have found every excuse people now might make, and a few more besides. They would have had every reason for not following Jesus. They couldn’t afford it; they weren’t qualified; they were the wrong men for the job; they had a lot of responsibilities; there were family reasons; and so and so on.
Yet the passage from Saint Mark’s Gospel is read this morning because they were prepared to give up the places and the people they loved, to let go of the memories and the sense of place and to go out and tell people about this Jesus.
“Come, follow me,” says Jesus, and he still talks to people now.
“At once they left their nets and followed him”. Are there still people who are prepared to leave their own lives in response to this call?