After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he 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 men, and followed him.
This is the Gospel selection for the third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, January 21, 2018. This is important because Mark recalled the beginning of Jesus’ ministry by his proclamation, “The kingdom of God has come near.” In that beginning, Mark told how Jesus called fishermen away from their boats, to “make them fish for people.”
I have called Mark the “Sergeant Friday” of the Gospels, as his version is short and quick to the facts: “Just the facts ma’am. Just the facts.”
The reality is Mark (who is not named as a disciple) was the name of the writer who told the story of Simon Peter. While scholars originally attributed this anonymous work to Mark the Evangelist, who was the travel companion of Saint Peter, later thought has moved away from that view. Regardless of the proof or lack thereof, the Gospel of Mark has to be seen as the witness of “the Rock,” Simon bar-Jonah, who was a disciple of John the Baptizer before following Jesus. Seeing this reading as the story told by Peter makes elements of this reading make more sense.
First of all, the announcement, “After John was arrested,” is a reflection on the man to whom Simon (named Peter by Jesus) was once a disciple. John, the baptizing prophet of God, was who Peter had followed, as a disciple, thinking John might be the promised Messiah. To say “John was arrested,” Mark was the first to write about that event. Both Matthew and Mark wrote of the death of John, recalling his arrest as attributable to Herod Antipas complying with his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14:3 and Mark 6:17). However, that makes this statement that “John was arrested” take on a meaning directly relative to Simon Peter.
The Greek of Mark 1:14 says, “Kai meta to paradothēnai ton Iōannēn,” which literally translates to state, “And after the delivering up the [one] John,” where “paradothēnai” can mean “handing over, delivering up, abandoning, or betraying.” The Greek of Mark 6:17 states, “ekratēsen ton Iōannēn,” where “ekratēsen” means “taking hold of, seizing hold of, obtaining, or holding fast.” Matthew wrote (Matthew 14:3) “kratēsas ton Iōanēn,” which translates the same (root being krateó) , as “seized hold of.” The difference in tone, from “handing over” and “seizing hold of,” means Mark 1 is less about Herod Antipas “arresting” John than it is more about Peter “abandoning” John, to follow Jesus. Thus, Mark told of Simon Peter remembering the time “After the handing over of his devotion to John, beginning when Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God,” with Simon Peter alongside.
In the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus’ baptism, which took place in the Jordan, close to Bethany beyond the Jordan. Mark jumps from that location to Galilee, which represents a greater gap in time than John presented in his Gospel. John fills in that gap that Mark presents, through its brevity.
One of the gaps is where John wrote of Andrew (a disciple of John). John told how Andrew went and told his brother Simon to come and meet Jesus. Jesus then told Simon he would be called Peter (Képhas). This took place before Jesus “purposed to go into Galilee” (John 1:43). Both Andrew and Simon (called Peter by Jesus) were already committed to follow Jesus; but Jesus obviously told them to go home and go about business as usual, until he was ready to begin his ministry. They had been prepared to await his later call to come and follow him.
This means that in the space between the comma following “arrested” and the “J” of “Jesus came to Galilee,” Jesus, John the Beloved, Andrew, Philip and Simon-Peter walked from Jerusalem to their various homes in Galilee, attended a wedding in Cana, and some possibly accompanied Jesus to the edge of his sojourn in the wilderness (40 days fasting), before returning to Galilee. All that occurred before Jesus moved to Capernaum and began “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”’
Thus, when Mark wrote, “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him,” they were prepared for this call. This was not their first encounter with Jesus. Because Andrew and Simon-Peter were part of the overall family of fishermen in Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee, they could have prepared James and John, sons of Zebedee that Jesus might call. Still, everything written by John is the truth, with no errors out of sequence, just as Peter told Mark the truth, but without every detail.
When one sees Mark telling the story of Simon-Peter, Peter’s identification of himself as Simon says that when he was not in the presence of Jesus, Simon was not “the Rock” Jesus foresaw. The name Simon becomes a confession of his common self, as he and his brother Andrew “were fishermen” as ordinary laborers. As a personal Epiphany lesson, all true Christians are common and ordinary before the presence of the LORD shines within. Just as Simon was Peter’s ordinary name, Peter represented his transformed or elevated self name, one given to him by the Messiah. A Saint loses his or her birth name and becomes transformed in the name of Jesus Christ.
Mark wrote, “As [Jesus] went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.” The overlooked element here is the statement “James son of Zebedee and his brother John” is a parallel to the statement “Simon and his brother Andrew.” Beyond those two pairs of brothers, Thaddeus (also called Jude or Lebbeus) was the son of Alpheus (also called Cleopas or Clopas), as was James the Younger (or Lesser). Levi (also called Matthew) is another who is identified as the son of Alpheus, such that if Alpheus is the father of all three, then there are three sets of brothers who followed Jesus.
Cleopas and his wife Mary (who was with Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene at the cross, with John, as Jesus died) were aunt and uncle of Jesus. Cleopas was the brother of Mother Mary (either directly or by marriage to Joseph). Thus, James the Younger, son of Cleopas, is also referred to as the brother of Jesus. John wrote about the brothers of Jesus, saying they did not believe in him (John 7:3-5), which indicates Joseph had sons by a prior marriage and possibly with Mary after Jesus. Do not forget that when Jesus was preaching to the crowd that followed him, and he was told his mother and his brothers were waiting outside for him, Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21; similar in Matthew 12:50 and Mark 3:35).
The point of these observations is they are rooted in why Paul regularly addressed fellow Christians as “adelphoi,” or “brothers.” All Christians are related because they are the sons of God, as Jesus reborn infinitely into human bodies. It is easy (common) to do the work of “hired hands,” mending the nets that are to be thrown out to capture a mortal living; but a hired hand will leave one employer and follow another that offers more material gain. The fathers of family businesses never have enough sons to expand, meaning they are barely able to stay afloat as time wears away all physical investments.
We can see this now, as Simon abandoned John for one who was said to come after him, the one John baptized with water, and the one John announced to be the Lamb of God. Simon and Andrew likewise “handed over” a job that had them fishing for worldly sustenance. The left a livelihood in exchange for an eternity with God. James and John of Zebedee made the same trade. They were all brothers of earthly fathers, but they became brothers in service to the LORD, the Father. All Christians since have been called to make the same sacrifice, opting out of an earthly, mortal lineage, to be filled with the Holy Spirit as the new body and blood of Jesus Christ, Sons of God.
At such a time the prophecy of Jesus will be fulfilled, as new Christians hear him say, “This is the good news of God! The time is fulfilled again and again, as the kingdom of God has been born anew! You have repented, and believed in the good news, because a good Son always obeys his Father.”