In the time of Jesus, Jewish teachers often focused on the fine details of legal interpretation. They wanted people to understand, for example, exactly how they must wash their hands in order to follow the Jewish law. Moreover, these teachers would support their conclusions by quoting from other, earlier teachers. Even their verbal teaching included the sort of material we would find in academic footnotes. (I took today’s photo while visiting Capernaum several years ago. Most of what you see in this photo is from a fourth-century AD synagogue. But the dark stone lower foundation is from the synagogue that Jesus visited in the first century.)
Last week, we considered the question: If I follow Jesus should I quit my job? The answer I suggested was: Perhaps, but not usually. Yes, there are times when the Lord calls us to leave one job for another. But, for the most part, the call of Jesus doesn’t require us to leave our jobs. Rather, it does encourage us to see them in a new light. In fact, following Jesus reframes our careers in light of our fundamental vocation. Let me explain what I mean.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to consider the question: If I follow Jesus should I quit my job? I noted that many Christian testimonies seem to imply that real discipleship means leaving behind “secular” employment in order to go into “full-time ministry.” These stories appear to be consistent with what we see in Mark 1. When Jesus calls his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, then James and John, he calls them away from their work (fishing for fish) and into a new line of work (fishing for people). If we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, should we leave our jobs and take on new employment?
It’s a wonderful thing when someone truly hears God’s call to leave “secular” employment and get more directly involved in some kind of explicitly Christian organization. I have the greatest respect for those who follow Jesus on a disruptive and personally costly path. There is no question in my mind that sometimes God calls people away from one line of work (fishing for fish, for example) and into another line of work (fishing for people). Those who say “Yes” to Jesus are to be affirmed and supported.
But, I am concerned about the underlying message that is often communicated by those who leave their jobs to “follow Jesus.”
When Jesus came upon Simon (whom we know better as Peter) and Andrew, his brother, he called to them, “Come, follow me.” Notice that Jesus did not say, “Come, believe in me.” Of course Simon and Andrew wouldn’t have followed Jesus unless they believed that he was worthy of following. But, we must note carefully that Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to take action, to do something in response to his invitation, and not merely to believe and go back to fishing.
Those of us who are familiar with the ministry of Jesus can take for granted the fact that he called his disciples. But Jesus’ initiative would have surprised people in his culture, and not just those whom he called to follow him. Religious teachers in the time of Jesus didn’t recruit their own students. Rather, they received those who sought them out and asked to become followers. Jesus, by contrast, chose the ones whom he wanted to be his disciples.
In Mark 1:15 we read a summary of the good news preached by Jesus: “The time has come. . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
How did Jesus encourage people in his day to respond to this good news? How should we respond to it today?
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to consider the question: Can I live in God’s kingdom now, or do I have to wait for the kingdom to come in the future? We discovered that the answer of Jesus to this question is nuanced. Yes, the kingdom has come near, and thus is present. Yet, the kingdom is not completely here, and so we continue to hope for its coming.
Can I live in the God’s kingdom now, or do I have to wait until the kingdom comes in the future? Christians have answered this question differently throughout the years. Some have emphasized the contemporary presence of the kingdom of God. They point to things Jesus said, such as, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, KJV). Others emphasize the future coming of the kingdom. They underscore other sayings of Jesus, like: “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). Often, the debate among Christians about the timing of the coming of the kingdom leaves us confused. Which is it? Now? Or sometime in the future?
After announcing that God’s time had finally come, Jesus focused the “good news of God” in a few words: “The kingdom of God has come near” (1:15). What did this mean? How can this be good news for us today?