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Follow Me – Br. David Vryhof

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Mark 1:16-20

Today we observe the feast of St Mark the Evangelist.  An evangelist is, by definition, “a bearer of good news,” and Mark the Evangelist declares his good news in the gospel that bears his name.  Mark’s gospel, thought by many to be the earliest of the four gospels and presumed to have been written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., presents Jesus as the Son of God and bears witness to the mighty works that he did.  For those who have eyes to see, Mark wants us to know, these mighty acts are signs of God’s power and evidence of the coming of God’s kingdom.

Early in his gospel the evangelist describes the calling of Jesus’ first disciples.  This account, which we have just heard read, is part of Mark’s “good news,” so let’s reflect for a few moments on the story, and see what good news there might be for us in it.  I’ll ask you to notice five things:

First, notice what these first disciples were. They were simple folk, common people, fishermen from Galilee.  It might surprise us that Jesus chose people like these to be his closest companions and the ones to whom he would entrust his message.  We might have expected him to look for talented, learned people with gifts of leadership and public speaking.  We might have expected him to choose deeply religious people who were well trained in the Scriptures and in theology.  But he chooses instead these simple, common folk, fishermen by trade, and by so doing, shows us that his kingdom includes and welcomes all and that even the least may play an important role in it.  This is good news for us all.  We do not have to be “extraordinary” in order for God to love us and choose us and use us.  Jesus invites us as we are to come and follow him; he sees a potential in us that may not be recognized by others, or even by ourselves.  He sees, and chooses us, common as we are.

Second, notice what they were doing. They were simply going about their day’s work.  There were many fishermen in Galilee.  Josephus, who for a time was governor of Galilee and who was a great historian of the Jews, tells us that in his day three hundred and thirty fishing boats sailed on Galilee’s lake.  In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, ordinary people seldom ate meat, and fish was a staple of their diet.  Because there were no means of transporting fresh fish, the fish was usually salted and preserved for export to other cities and villages, to Jerusalem, and even to Rome itself.

When Jesus calls them, these fishermen are at work, mending their nets and casting them into the sea, going about their daily labors.  And this is often how it is in the stories of the Bible.  Moses was tending sheep when he was called; Isaiah was performing his duties in the temple; Mary was going about her daily tasks.  God’s call comes to us most often in the very ordinary circumstances of our daily lives.  This too is good news for us.  It means that we do not have to fast and pray for days on end or achieve some state of perfection in order to discover God’s desire for us; we need only to be attentive in our daily life and work.  It is in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives that God speaks to us.

Third, notice how Jesus called them. He gave them a simple and direct invitation: “Follow me.”  He does not ask them to save the world by their heroic performance.  He simply asks them to follow him, to share in his work, and to bear witness to his message. The work is his, not theirs.  They have only to follow.  This too is good news for us.  He has given us an example, so that we might pattern our lives after his.

For most of us, following Christ is like falling in love.  We do not follow Christ because we have carefully reasoned that this is the wisest and best decision we could make.  More often we have come to follow Jesus because we have been attracted to him – drawn by his words, or his manner of relating to others, or by his values or his mission.  We find ourselves drawn to him, falling in love, and this invitation then comes to us in a more urgent and powerful way, compelling us to commit our lives to him, to know him and love him and serve him with all that we have and are.  The call comes to us afresh every day: “Follow me.”

Fourth, notice what Jesus offered them. He offered them a task.  They are not called to ease but to service.  Jesus gives them a task which will challenge and engage them.  He tells them that now they are to fish for people, to draw others into the orbit of God’s love and into the ongoing mission of God’s kingdom.  We all need something in which to invest ourselves, some purpose or direction that gives our lives meaning and focus.  Here is your task, he says to them: to become fishers of men, to invite others to follow just as you have followed.

Here Jesus confronts them and us with a decision that lies deeper than the question of what kind of work we will do to earn our living.  The call of Jesus asks us to focus on the question of our ultimate loyalty in life.  To what and to whom shall we commit ourselves?  What is worthy of our time and talent and energy?  What do we see as our primary task in life, our chief calling, our purpose for being in the world?  Is it merely to hold a job, or to accumulate possessions, or to enjoy ourselves as much as possible in the years we are given?  Is it simply to pursue and achieve a sense of security or personal fulfillment?  Is it to love those who love us, and to do good to those whom we share the bonds of friendship?  Or is it to devote ourselves to something greater than these?  For what are we living?  If we are not living for God, then we are living for something else.  What is it?

We recognize in our Rule of Life that “People are hungry for good news that life is full of meaning in union with God.”[1] To proclaim this good news is a high calling and worthy of our ultimate loyalty.

Finally, notice how these men respond to Jesus’ invitation. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (1:18). Mark’s use of the word “immediately” conveys a sense of urgency.  The time is now; the kingdom has come; the Messiah is here.  Nothing is more urgent; nothing more important than this. They leave their nets and boats and hired servants behind, and follow him.

What might call forth that kind of wholehearted response in you and in me? Is there something for which I would be ready to sacrifice all?  Is there something for which I would be willing even to suffer or die?  These disciples found that something in the call of Jesus to follow him.  For this they were ready to go to the ends of the earth.  For this they were ready even to suffer and die.  To be the bearers of God’s good news was a task to which they could give themselves wholeheartedly.

The French hermit and mystic Charles de Foucauld wrote, “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I realized that I could do nothing else but live for Him alone.”[2] “From then on,” his biographer tells us, “Foucauld wanted to imitate Jesus and to love Him beyond measure.  Having met his fellowman, it was a great discovery to contemplate Jesus, to love Him, and to wish to live in complete communion with Him.  In the Gospel he began to search passionately for [Jesus’] words and His acts so that he might follow them as closely as possible.”[3]

St Teresa of Avila once asked, “Is it nothing to belong completely to God?”[4]

Like Charles and Teresa, men and women throughout the ages have responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him by devoting their hearts and their lives to the love of God and to sharing in the work that God is still doing in the world.  They too have become Evangelists, bearers of good news, offering to others the new identity and way of life they have discovered in Christ.

This same invitation is offered to you and to me.  “Follow me,” Jesus implores us.  Learn to become fishers of people, evangelists and bearers of good news, so that those who are captive may be set free, so that those who are blind may see, so that those who are lost may be found, so that all may hear and rejoice in the Gospel’s good news and may find their life’s true purpose and meaning in him.

“Follow me,” Jesus says.  What has been and what will be your response to his call?


[1] The Rule of the Society of St John the Evangelist, (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1997), p.39.

[2] Six, Jean-Francois, Witness in the Desert: The Life of Charles de Foucauld; (NY: Macmillan, 1965), p.28.

[3] Ibid. p. 29.

[4] Quoted in Witness in the Desert, p.43.

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6 Comments

  1. Ruth West on October 15, 2014 at 09:55

    Thank you, Br. David, for this wonderful sermon.
    It so clearly gives us the message of the gospel according to Mark. Jesus still calls us today to “Follow me.” He can use us, regardless of social standing, academic accomplishments, etc.
    It only takes commitment and surrender.

  2. anders on October 15, 2014 at 09:11

    The theology of „follow me“ and „feed the hungry“ stands in contrast to the Nicene Creed (where love is not mentioned) or the teachings of Paul (where Jesus teachings aren´t directly referred to). In today´s complicated world, the simplicity of your message is assuring to me.

  3. Mary on October 15, 2014 at 08:20

    A morning gift. Thank you. I am not extraordinary but I hold the treasure of the universe in my heart and mind. That makes this ordinary day full of meaning and hope and potential as I seek to follow one day after another. One step at a time in the footprints of the Master.

  4. gwedhn nicholas on August 15, 2014 at 11:58

    I am so grateful and relieved to know that I don’t have to be extraordinary. I just need to be myself; the person God made me to be. I didn’t realize this before I started reading the sermons the amazing sermons that you, and your brothers have so graciously shared, and continue to share. What a ministry!
    Gratefully
    Gwedhen

  5. Mary Jo Thompson on August 15, 2014 at 08:32

    Thank you, Br David, I really needed to know that.

  6. Martin Wheeler on May 16, 2013 at 19:58

    This is a most powerful, eloquent, and clear re-telling of Mark’s gospel that presents the challenge of following Jesus in a most compelling way.
    To what am I wholeheartedly committed, living my life day to day, and is this commitment something that comes from Spirt?

    I really appreciate how your message Br. David and the other messages shared here really help deepen my sense of how Spirit is working and broaden the spiritual horizon for me. Thanks so much.

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