Gospel for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (24 January 2021)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Now 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 (Mark 1:14-20 – NRSV).
Both Matthew and Luke use this text from Mark in their own Gospels – see Matthew 4:12-17 and Luke 4:14-15.
The text begins in v.14 with a transition statement. Such transition statements appear frequently in Mark – see for example 1:21 (“They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught”), 1:28 (“At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee”), 2:1-2 (“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them”) and 4:1-2 (“Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables”).
The transition is from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus. “After the prologue with its heavy christological thrust, this first public act of Jesus in summoning people to follow him is an indication that Jesus’ work as ‘the stronger one’ (1:7) who proclaims the good news of God will involve other people in a most radical sense. This pericope with its location in Galilee, its mention of Peter and other followers, and especially the picture of Jesus ‘going before’ the disciples (1:16–17) provides an arch to the concluding verses of the gospel, ‘Go, tell Peter and his disciples that he is going before you to Galilee’ (proagei, 16:7).
“All major sections of Mark begin with stories involving disciples. This first call becomes a paradigm for the subsequent call narratives (2:13–15; 3:13–19; 6:6b–13), consisting of the following elements: (1) the initiative is from Jesus; (2) those called are engaged in ordinary work; (3) the call is in the form of a clear summons to ‘follow me’; (4) the call is to share in the mission or activity of the one calling; (5) the response to the call is immediate and unreflective, with a ‘leaving’ of former occupations; and (6) responding to the call is not a private choice, but means joining others who have responded as well. After this initial call, the subsequent calls develop even more the mission aspect. According to 3:13–19 the disciples are to ‘be with Jesus’ and to be sent out to preach and ‘to have authority’ over demons. In 6:6b–13 they are explicitly itinerant missionaries and, like Jesus, are to preach repentance (see 1:4, 14), to exorcise, and to heal the sick. Two essential elements in the call to discipleship are ‘being with’ Jesus and doing the tasks of Jesus. Dramatic tension in the gospel will arise from whether disciples will ‘be with’ Jesus at all stages and whether they will take up their cross as Jesus did. See 8:31–38, which functions like a ‘call narrative’ inaugurating the second major part of the gospel.” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 76-77.)
the good news of God: Apart from 1 Pet 4:17, this expression is used only by Mark and Paul (see 1 Thess 2:2, 9; 3:2; Rom 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7). The Greek word used here is euangelion from which we get our English words “evangelization” and “evangelical”.
The time is fulfilled: The Greek word translated as “time” here is Kairos. There is no exact English equivalent. The word Kairos carries the connotation of “proper” or “opportune” time. It may also suggest crisis – as in 13:33 (“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come”)
The kingdom of God: The Greek basileia – here translated as “kingdom” – presents the translator with a challenge. One scholar writes: “Translation is a problem here, and not simply because of the androcentric overtones of ‘king’. The word ‘kingdom’ is static and evokes a place where a king (or queen) rules. Greek basileia is more active and dynamic, with the nuance of the ‘reigning’ of God as well as a setting for that reign. ‘Kingdom’ is maintained here principally because of its important theological history. Though 1:15 may not provide the exact words of Jesus (some of the vocabulary suggests a post-Easter perspective, and Jesus taught in Aramaic in any case), the proclamation of the kingdom of God is generally admitted to be the heart of Jesus’ preaching in both word and deed. While the actual phrase ‘kingdom of God’ is infrequent in the ot and early Jewish literature, the image of God as king is strong, both in the course of history (e.g., Exod 15:11–13, 18; Num 23:21–23; Pss 2; 72; 89; 110; 145:11–12 [royal psalms]; Psalms 95–100 [possible enthronement psalms]), and at the consummation of history when God’s definitive reign will be established (Mic 2:12–13; 4:5–7; Isa 44:1–8; Zech 9:9–11; Zeph 3:14–20; Dan 2:44; 7:11–14; Ass. Mos. 10:1–25; Pss. Sol. 17:23–35).” (Donahue, J. R., & Harrington, D. J., op cit, 71.)
repent: The Greek word is metanoeite – from the verb metanoeō. Again, translation is a challenge. Metanoeō literally means “change one’s mind”. It gets closer to the original meaning if we say “change one’s heart”. Jesus is calling for radical, inner transformation.
the Sea of Galilee: “The shores of the lake were heavily populated. It also served as a boundary between the heavily Hellenized eastern side (the Decapolis: see Mark 5:20; 7:31) and the mainly Jewish -occupied cities on the western side. In Mark Jesus will journey frequently from side to side, symbolizing perhaps the mission to both Jews and Gentiles (see 4:35; 5:1, 21; 6:1, 34, 45, 53; 7:24, 31; 8:14, 22).” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, 74.)
Simon: In the beginning of his Gospel, Mark uses “Simon” instead of “Peter” – see 1:16, 29, 30, 36; 3:16. Thereafter – apart from the scene in the garden of Gethsemane in 14:37 – he calls him “Peter”. Simon is the second son of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 29:33). It is a popular name in Jewish history. Peter comes from the Greek Petra meaning “rock”, translating the Aramaic Cephas – a name that seems to have been coined by Jesus himself.
follow: The Greek word is deute which literally means “Come!” or even “Come here!”
I will make you fish for people: The use of the future tense here is significant. The fact of discipleship is not instantaneous. Discipleship itself implies lifelong learning. It is an unending journey. We should not be distracted by the use of the word “immediately” here. Discipleship is not just a decision with instantaneous effect, though it involves a decision repeatedly confirmed. The primary decision – initiative – and energy and vision come from Jesus. A gradual coming into communion with Him is the work of a lifetime.
In today’s Gospel – Mark 1:14-20 – we meet Simon. We also meet Andrew. Significantly, Andrew is mentioned as Simon’s brother. Simon is in fact the best known of all the disciples of Jesus, though he is not always called Simon. Jesus later give him the nickname, Peter: “(Jesus) appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter) …. ” (Mark 3:16). It seems that no one had ever been called Peter before that. The nickname stuck. Every time this man is referred to in the rest of Mark’s Gospel, he is called Peter, with one interesting exception. In the Garden of Gethsemane Mark tells us: “(Jesus) came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep?’ …. ” (Mark 14:37). It is worth noting that St Paul uses the Aramaic version of the name – Cephas – when he makes reference to him. See for example, 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 & 15:5 and again in Galatians 1:18, 2:9 & 2:11.
Peter’s name is generally given pride of place, as in today’s Gospel. See also the list of the Twelve in Mark 3:16-19 and in those passages where three or four are separated out – Mark 5:37, 9:2, 14:33 – when he is with James and John – and 1:29 and 13:3 – when he is with James and John and Andrew. (We might wonder therefore about the following event: “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to (Jesus) and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. …. Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’” (Mark 13:35-37). Peter is missing. What do you think might have been going on there?)
There seems to be a very special relationship between Jesus and Peter. And we, the readers, are drawn into that special relationship. This is nowhere more so than when Peter’s impetuousness has him putting his foot firmly in his mouth. Recall him, for example, trying to stop Jesus from going up to Jerusalem: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, (Jesus) rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! …. (Mark 8:32-33). There are similar moments on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:5-6), at the Last Supper, when Peter promises to stand by Jesus until the bitter end (Mark 14:26-31) and then at the bitter end (Mark 14:66-72).
It is not difficult to imagine that the relationship between Jesus and Peter grew deeper in those moments. And we should not idealize or romanticize them. It is hard to imagine a more painful moment for Peter than his denials of the man who gave him his special name: “‘I do not know this man you are talking about’. …. And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14:71-72). What makes Peter great is Jesus. How he would have treasured that special name – Peter.