Year B, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
The texts for this week are brimming with urgency. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah “a second time!” When Jonah finally follows through God responds with immediacy to the repentance of Ninevah (much to the irritation of Jonah). The psalmist’s soul waits for God but it seems to be an expectant waiting rather than a long-suffering yearning. There is adamant assurance of God’s deliverance and power, refuge and protection. Paul declares that the time “has grown short” “for the present form of this world is passing away.” And Jesus proclaims in Mark, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”Time for action of some sort is of the essence!
Each of these scriptures has its own context for declaring urgency. We know the story of Jonah and the lengths to which Jonah has gone to escape his call from to go to Ninevah. God does not give up on him and calls yet a second time. The psalmist proclaims that “God has spoken once” of God’s power in relation to the powers of the world, of God’s refuge and steadfast love. Once seems to be all that should be needed for us to hear. But the psalmist confesses to have heard the call to trust God twice. (Interesting and humorous comment on the previous tale of Jonah!) Paul is speaking to the church at Corinth about end times and his expectation for the coming of again of Jesus the Christ. We know Paul’s expectations of Jesus’ return in his lifetime were off, yet his urgency in responding to the gospel message is instructive in our time as well as his.
Finally in the gospel story we are thrust into the immediacy of the whole tone of Mark. This gospel sweeps us off our feet from the beginning, plunging into the heart of God’s matter. Jesus has come to proclaim the Kingdom of God which is being brought into being NOW! As we consider the violent and divisive events of our own time don’t we also yearn and wait for God’s realm of justice and peace, forgiveness, love and joy to be brought into being NOW! Jesus says to the local fishermen, Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Follow me! I will make you fishers of people.” And from this invitation we infer that they are to be instrumental in bringing in God’s realm of justice, peace and love. We also hear the call ourselves.
The decisive response of the fishermen to the call of God’s realm is a response we long to have courage to emulate. Those of us in ministry leadership – lay or clergy –also long to inspire this courage in others. The concerns of family and work (which the disciples must have had as well) confuse our responses of courage. How can we just give it all up and follow the urgent call of Jesus? Is the call that black and white, either/or?
In her weekly lectionary reflection, Rev. Kate Huey quotes Ted Smith, an essayist in Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 1. “Jesus doesn’t ask the fishermen ‘to add one more task to their busy lives. He calls them into new ways of being.’ So he doesn’t give them a new list of things to do but ‘a new identity….a whole new life’.” Our task this week as preachers and teachers is to tell the scripture in ways that illuminate this urgent invitation to “’a new identity….a whole new life’.” And to use other stories if need be to further the illumination.
I struggled with non-biblical stories this week. Pondering familiar tales and researching new ones. Though I have chosen two below with images and themes of commitment and courage, perhaps the best stories for today are the ones we have been given in scripture. Below is a guided meditation I created for my own reflection on the gospel story from Mark. I invite you to use it prayerfully in creating a story within the story, a personal story created from scripture and your own life experiences. While it is based on the scripture text I have left the person of Jesus open-ended in the meditation. We have too many preconceived ideas of what Jesus looked like. Your soul may choose a traditional image. However, trust your soul to surprise you as well. The living Christ of today comes to us in many forms and in many guises.
- Get comfortable and mindful of your breathing. When your breath is regular and slow, calm and automatic in nature, you are ready to begin your guided journey. Read the story from Mark through aloud to yourself. Invite the Spirit of God to journey with you and lead you through the meditation.
- You are at the seashore. What do you see before you? Is the wind cool or warm? Is the sun fierce or gentle? What smells tickle your nose? Can you taste salt on your lips? What are you hearing?
- How long have you been on the beach? What have you been doing? Are your working or at leisure? Fishing from the shore? On a boat? Just walking the length of the strand? Scavenging shells, seaweed? Looking for crabs?
- Stop whatever you are doing for a moment and notice someone coming down the beach. It looks as if this person is walking straight at you and is looking for you. You know this person is coming to speak to you. Do you want to speak to this person? Do you want to avoid this person?
- As the person approaches, notice the details of the person’s appearance. Clothes, walk, hair, manner of posture. What are the facial features? What do the eyes tell you? Smiling? Serious? Something else?
- The person stops in front of you or by your side. Or behind you. What do you feel in your body? In your emotions?
- The person speaks….what is said? What is the conversation? What questions do you have for this person? Stay in the conversation until it seems/feels finished. Do not rush.
- When you sense there is an end….watch the person walk on their way to someone else…walk with the person…find the closing elements to your conversation. Then notice again your seashore surroundings. Come back into your bodily senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Wriggle your fingers or toes. Stretch a bit. Say a prayer of closure if you are so moved and give thanks for the conversation you have just had. Open your eyes if they were closed and make some notes in a journal if you would like. Breathe deep and get a big drink of water!
Two stories about Commitment and Courage:
A Bold Quail
“Sitting at my mother’s window last Christmas, I watched her throw a handful of seed on the ground for the covey of quail huddled in the trees about a hundred yards away. Eventually they ventured out in a single line from the trees and began pecking away at the ground, grateful I am sure, for the sustenance during the very chilly snowy mornings.
But quail are skittish birds and at the slightest hint of movement or noise, they flurry back to the safety of the small grove of pine. The sound of their wings made low whirring sounds in unity that I could hear even through the closed window.
As I watched, there was one quail, who remained behind and kept eating. Every day, this little ritual would occur, and every day, I watched Gretchen, as I came to calling her, remain behind and continue eating.
I suddenly became aware of how people get so into the group thinking and run because everyone runs, that they rob themselves of the blessings in store if they were just bold enough to remain and face their fear and risk not thinking like everyone else.
I learned a lot from Gretchen that week as day after day, her boldness paid off. She got more to eat than the others, she conserved her energy by not flurrying off like the others.
I call Gretchen bold. She dared to be different and stand alone when she needed to. Bold means to live life to the fullest and not give in to fear.”
Chasing Two Rabbits
“A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. ‘I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?’
‘The hunter who chases two rabbits,” answered the master, “catches neither one.’”
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015. To be reprinted with permission only.