Third Sunday After The Epiphany

S. Epiphany 3.24 Mark 1:14-20

Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me’… and straight away they left their nets and followed him.

Why? Why did they follow this Stranger? But that’s a bad question! Wittgenstein teaches us that all our philosophical conundrums come from trying to answer bad questions. Clarity comes when we recognize a bad question and refuse to answer it because bad questions have no good answers… 😉

“Why is ‘Why?’ a bad question?” Well, see: there you go again! It was the snake in the garden who taught our mother Eve to ask ‘Why’ questions: “why should you not eat of the tree in the midst of the garden? Why doesn’t God want you to be happy? Why wouldn’t you want to be like God?” When your mom told you, when you were young: “Go, clean your room!” and you went ‘Why?’ how did that work out for everyone? 😉

‘Why?’ questions are bad questions because they give us the illusion of choice, of control. They seduce us into thinking that we’re the masters here, and can do as we please, as if our path were not laid out for us before the world began—by God!— for us to walk in and find his glory and his joy…

It is to their everlasting credit that the first disciples: Simon, Andrew, James, and John did not ask any questions—especially the dreaded ‘Why?’ when Jesus commanded them to leave their boats and follow him. They do not make Eve’s mistake, because they are not burdened by the illusion of choice.

‘Why?’ See, you just can’t stop it, can you? 😉

They are not burdened by the illusion of choice because of the overwhelming nature of the One who is before them. It’s like the beginning of your sophomore year in college when you saw the prettiest girl in Prof. Hall’s English class. There was no choice here! She is the one and you at least recognized that, right off the bat. Oh, it was frightening and overwhelming, and you (being foolish) tried to escape your destiny, for a while, by dating other girls, also. But that only made it painfully obvious she is the one, the only one for you. And forced the first of many apologies for being wrong.

So it is with Simon, Andrew, James, and John when they first meet Jesus. The Gospels are all romantic comedies, BTW (with tragic and magical elements). Once you see what kind of stories they are, you will hear them… better. You’re welcome. I’m always here to help. 😉

If we ask better questions of this story, like ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘how?’ we will not ‘get’ the story—no, no!; but we may be gotten by it, captivated by it, absorbed into it, ourselves, which is how it should be.

It simply never occurs to Simon, Andrew, James, or John to ask this Stranger any questions in response to his command “Follow me!”—and it is a command, not an invitation, proposal, or proposition. Because it is apparent to everyone who encounters him that this man Jesus is God himself, the Triune God. come in our flesh. He is the LORD, the King of Kings. And you don’t—well, you shouldn’t—ask the King of Kings any questions, certainly not ‘Why?’ questions but not even the better who, what, where, or how questions, either… 😉

It is this point that, I think, keeps most modern people from getting Christ Jesus very well. We’ve been bewitched by unbelieving modern “scholars” (and bad movies) into thinking that Jesus just appeared as an ordinary guy, a plain old carpenter’s son, so that he had the devil of a time trying to persuade us who he really is—and that the work of persuading people to believe in Jesus is the chief task of the church, as if we should go knocking on doors trying to convince people who Jesus is—as if it’s not obvious, instantly, to everyone!

Yeah, right…

Because every single person who saw Jesus knew, at once: this is Yahweh, the LORD, God—the One our first parents ran and hid from (after they sinned!) when they heard him walking in the garden in the cool of the evening breeze. The demons blurt it out with fear and trembling. And the haters pretend not to recognize him, even though they do. As Jesus himself says, in the parable of the wicked tenants, they knew it was the King’s son coming to claim them and his vineyard as his own and so they killed him, so they could be, themselves, the rulers of all. A plan that (weirdly!) the King modifies for his own purposes… (!)

There are good reasons you would not want to get mixed up with the LORD of heaven and earth. Peter shows us the main one, later, when Jesus commandeers Simon’s ship to teach the crowd by the shore. After a miraculous catch of fish, Simon says: “Depart from me LORD, for I am a sinful man”. Being so close to the Holy, Glorious, King makes it glaringly obvious how un-Kingly, un-holy, un-glorious we are—especially to the pretty girl from English class we’re so desperately trying to impress…

Jesus simply makes us look bad—which is ‘why’ we keep shooing him away. Oops, I did it myself: got tangled up in ‘why?’ shtuff. Hard habit to break!

Anyway, you can see it’s a pride thing—our pretending that it’s tough to recognize Jesus as LORD and God and King—like teenagers who make their parents walk 10 steps behind them in the mall because they don’t want to be under anyone’s authority but their own

And it is to their everlasting credit that the first four swallow their pride, along with the illusion of choice. They see who this is commanding them—and no way of escape. “Follow me!” the LORD commands. So, they row their boats to shore, leave their nets and all their shtuff, and follow down a road that looks daunting—a road they’re continually trying to sneak off for smoother, safer, trails…

The illusion of choice is perhaps the hardest one to give up, I findI don’t know about you? To think I’m captain of my ship, master of my domain, is an appealing way to see myself. Luther recognized it as the very essence of our sinful state. But think how many bad places you went when you were setting the course! Think of all the embarrassing apologies you had to offer.

Perhaps they’d made enough bad choices to be tired of their own choosing, the first four? Maybe that’s the boat Simon, Andrew, James, and John were in, that day? But when Jesus commands them: “Follow me” there is no choice. He’s the King. He captivates (even more than the pretty girl in English class 😉 His word creates such faith and love that the first four will follow him without question, anywhere—even if, like King Aragorn in Lord the Rings, he leads them down the Paths of the Dead and on to Mt. Doom…

At any rate, even cloaked in his Word mouthed by lowly fishermen like us, his Sacraments palmed by our shaky hands, Jesus is just as (dauntingly!) recognized as LORD now as he was then.

Still he stands, on the shore, commanding: “Follow me!” Long journey, daunting… as the old slave-folk song (a song about death, really 😉 goes: “Jordan’s river is deep and wide. Hallelujah! I’ll meet my father on the other side. That river’s chilly and cold. Hallelujah! Chills the body, but not the soul.” Yeah + when our strength’s all gone, Jesus gets the boat to shore where Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards our hearts and minds in him. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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