3rd Sunday before Advent
It might be hard to believe, but today is the 3rd Sunday before Advent! The countdown is on people. We are in a short season of Remembrance and on the cusp of the Kingdom season; when we turn towards the first coming of Jesus. The readings for these next three Sundays call us to take a look at the bigger picture of what it is to follow Jesus.
The readings from Jonah and Mark say something about following. Follow can be a rather loaded word, almost negative in some instances. We can think in terms of being a follower (weakness, unable to think for yourself) or being followed (suspicious, tracked). On social media, having followers is a very good thing as is being followed. Do these followers always know who and what they are following? It can be dangerous!
How do we follow? We have examples in the reading of a reluctant/negative follower in Jonah and very eager followers in the first disciples. Although it is likely that neither Jonah nor the disciples knew exactly what it was they were being asked to follow!
In the few short pages of Jonah, we meet a man who does not want to follow. So much so that he sails away in the opposite direction. God had called the prophet Jonah to preach to Israel’s cruellest of enemies and he initially refused. As a prophet of God, this was exactly what Jonah was called to do.
We meet with Jonah back on dry land after his ‘come to Jesus moment’ when he was spat out of the fish onto the beach. It is now time for Jonah to do what has been asked of him. This was to get up, be obedient and walk across the city of Nineveh and warn of God’s judgement. Jonah would rather see the Ninevites get what they deserved. God was supposed to wipe them out and judge them by Jonah’s standards.
But God doesn’t wipe them out, much to Jonah’s annoyance! The people of Nineveh get the message, repent, turn to God and are spared. Instead of being happy about saving the lives of thousands of people, Jonah remains grumpy and gets a poignant lesson in humility.
The story of Jonah shows us that when God calls us to follow him, He will get his way!
In Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus walking beside the Sea of Galilee calling people to repent and believe in the good news. This time it is not a prophet calling people, it is God himself. Jesus is also looking to call people to share the good news with him.
To understand the significance of what Simon, Andrew, James and John did that day, we need to understand their context. It is thought that James and John were set to inherit the family business, Zebedee & Sons Fishing Inc. It may have been that Simon and Andrew worked for Zebedee as well. This could have been a family business that had been handed down for generations.
To give up fishing meant giving up a lucrative family business, where you always have something to eat and something to sell. Not to mention the shame they would have brought on their family by leaving Zebedee literally holding the net.
Why? One day, a man is passing by on the shores of Galilee and declares that he wants them to stop their fishing for fish and instead go with him to tell people about God’s kingdom. This is very different from the telling that Jonah was doing. Jonah wanted people to be punished for their wrongdoing. Jesus is offering a chance to change and hear the good news. The reaction was that both sets of brothers ‘immediately’ left their nets and dear old Dad and followed him.
The question that gets me though: is what was so attractive about Jesus that made these four, ordinary fishermen with secure futures leave their nets and boats to follow him? I fear I am going to be plagued by this until I meet Jesus face to face.
Second question: why don’t we have that same desire?
We see Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John change and grow in the Gospel stories as they follow and learn from Jesus. It took time and energy, dedication, commitment and loyalty with mistakes made along the way. This is what following Jesus is about. Going the distance, learning, living and loving along the way.
Are we willing to follow like the disciples or like Jonah?
Jesus is in the business of changing people’s lives. That is what he came to do. On that day Jesus really changed the lives of those four ordinary fishermen when he invited them to a specially favoured place beside him. That invitation is open to us today.
Simon, Andrew, James and John throw in their lot with Jesus, knowing little about the consequences it will have. We may not see where the road will take us, but we can know who we are following. We may not know what will be asked of us, but we can trust the one who asks.
I am going to end with the Psalm 62:6-14 which is set for today:
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.