Peter Pan took me years to appreciate…and any appreciation for Pan started with Tinkerbell.
I “got the hots” for her somewhere around age ten when my male hormones began to compel me to answer the call to follow girls. I have to give the artists who drew Tinkerbell accolades for envisioning that sprite. Their skills led me to conclude that, whereas Peter Pan had his “lost boys,” perhaps I might have a chance to become Tink’s “found boy.” That pixie is hot!
And she was my first cartoon crush. I came to seek her, to know her, on Sunday evenings when I’d immediately drop my pole and net on the pond bank by Otto Leavens’ house and follow Tinkerbell to the Wonderful World of Disney. (1970s Disney Intro) Sunday after Sunday she’d call me and I’d follow her to the Magic Kingdom—again and again. She was worth my leaving of the fish.
The guys in Mark 1:14-20 and I had lots in common—it was all about the fish—fisher-folk, one and all. I had a pole and net, Simon and Andrew had a net, and James and John were out in a boat with dear ole dad, hired hands, and net-casters working in tandem with net menders. I fished for fun. The other guys fished to make ends meet, and in the case of two of them, they appear to be making those ends meet pretty well. Back in the ’70s I believed my call was to be a boy growing up in rural Georgia lusting after a hot pixie. Back in the 1st century Simon, Andrew, James and John, believed their call was to garner seafood for a living, or maybe even for profit.
Good times—-but my fishing life was interrupted by a smoking blonde with fairy wings.
Simon, Andrew, James, and John had their lives interrupted by a random man whose stroll along a seashore offered transformation to those gents with the words, “Follow me!”
It all happened like this:
14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (text taken from NRSV)
This text is so familiar to churchgoers that it has all the surprise and awe-rendering power of worm dirt. It is common, ordinary, and rolls around us almost every year because Matthew, Luke and Mark all record some form of it and are all prominent in the RCL. This year just happens to be the year of Mark–Year B—where the voice of the oldest gospel will fall on our ears.
We will hear the words “follow me,” (v.17) but we will miss out on the richness of the Greek word ὀπίσω which is used by Jesus. The word does mean “to follow” and it carries with it the connotation that the following/the coming after is done from behind. This word will be used again v. 20. If these four fisher-folk are coming behind, then Jesus must still “be passing along the sea,” or “proclaiming the good news of God,” or both. Whatever the case, Jesus leads in this way and the others he calls come into line/fall into line behind him. Perhaps they “queue up.”
And when they “queue up” they do so immediately, perhaps even without thought. Poor ole Zebedee watched as his sons left him in the boat with the hired help. The junior partners left their nets, walked the plank, and signed with another firm. Don’t you know Zeb loved this whole affair!
But here’s the thing—these people “queued up” and followed Jesus, but their call had not changed. They were still called to fish. The skills and talents and gifts given through DNA, on the job training, and life experience were simply being transformed. Jesus didn’t say stop fishing—have a career change—go to rabbinic school—then follow. He took ’em as they were, and planned to use them to his purpose, just as they were. Jesus did not change their call, he changed the focus of their call—from skills/gifts ordered towards fish to skills/gifts ordered towards people. Fisher-folk are fisher-folk after all–and being fisher-folk is as faithful a call as being Pope Francis I. The call was not transformed. What was transformed was the way that call would be lived out. Their following of Jesus will redefine their fishing technique as they adapt to the change in quarry. And as their quarry changed, so did they—still fisher-folk, yet fisher-folk seeking after people rather than chicken of the sea. This shift is transformation.
We might want to ponder this a bit…..perhaps receiving Jesus’ call to follow does not mean bounding off to seminary, or thinking that a call to be clergy somehow let’s us more closely tag along behind Jesus’ hemline. Perhaps call means being what you are—and doing what you do—and simply being open to the Lord moving along, issuing a us a call, orienting us towards a new focus, and transforming us in the process—-maybe a shift in focus transforms us in a way that more clearly uses our giftedness to proclaim the good news of God.
Luther thought this way—after all, he is the one who said,
“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
And who wears the shoes—people—-other people. I really think this is the point—that being called to follow means for your giftedness to be focused on people as we follow Jesus. He is always going ahead, continuing his strolling along all sorts of shores. What if our call might sound like this:
To the teacher, “Come, Follow me, and I will make you teach for people.”
To the doctor, “Come, Follow me, and I will make you doctor for people.”
To the home builder, “Come, Follow me, and I will make you build homes for people.”
To the cook, “Come, Follow me and I will make you cook for people.”
The teacher, doctor, home builder, and cook already do what God gifted them to do—-but in each case, their following of Jesus is about transformation.
Transformation is a powerful thing…..and it begins in following.
In the church, the one who follows the cross, who brings the light, is called an acolyte. The Greek word from which acolyte comes is ἀκολουθέω. It means to follow. A form of it is used (v.18) in the sentence that says, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” The acolyte enters a dim sanctuary, following a cross, not a word does the acolyte say…they just light wicks as they follow the cross. And as wicks ignite a faith community comes to life. The acolyte does what their title suggests—they just follow Jesus.
Could it really be so simple? Is that all that Jesus asks of us in this Magic Kingdom? Come? Follow?