In 2021 the Church follows the Gospel of Mark. Let us look at the themes that appear in the earlier chapters of Mark
- The beginning of everything that God sent his Son into the world. This Son, and his sending, was prior to the world and created the world and now sustains the world, for the world is just all the people in it. The world is not only all the people in it now, but all the people who ever have been and ever will be. The world is made up of people. The world is this great assembly of persons. They are persons, because God considers them so and treats them so. And he insists that we do the same. The material world, nature, is just the means by which we are present to one another, it is the way we are together, here, present, touchable, visible and audible. We are present and tangible to one another because we have bodies, because the natural world makes and sustains these bodies. It is the natural world that makes us present to each other and sets us before one another. We are embodied persons. We are persons, and we are present to one another, because our bodies enable us to be so. Our bodies are good, and flesh and materiality and nature are good. Food and plant life and meat and compost and soil are good. Each is always being transformed into the other, each a stage on a cycle, and our existence and presence are the outcome of this cycle. The Son of God was sent because God always intends to gather this assembly, bring these many persons together into life and so the bring each other us into this good company, that we call the whole company of heaven. Our Lord makes this company known to us, person by person, both through the apostles Jesus gathers and so through Israel, from which he calls them, and then through the people who bring us to Jesus, our own friends and family, whom he has also made his witnesses. In Jesus Christ God intends us to be with him, and intends that we be together, happily and freely, and he intends that we both know him, and come to know them, willingly and freely. He intends to be with us, as we are with one another, and yet more convincingly, uninterruptedly, unlimitedly, without the interruption of death or of the evil that come from our fear of death.
- In this first chapter of the Gospel of Mark Jesus calls his people. He selects his team. This is the team that is going to take the good news of salvation out across the world. But it is not merely going to bring is news, but it will cut through and free us and save us from the entrapment into which we have all been driven, and driven one another.
- Jesus came proclaiming the good news. Good news for the poor, according to Isaiah 61, is freedom for the captives, release from darkness for the prisoners… and this is because (Isaiah 40) her hard service has been completed, her sin has been paid off… Israel has done her time, her deficit has been paid off, and she is out of debt, and no longer owned by anyone. The Lord proclaims a general release. He is commanding all tyrants to let go of the people they have enslaved. No contract of debt bondage is binding, they are null and void. Our masters don’t have the power to hold you any longer. You are no longer under arrest. You cannot be held. The authorities have to admit who they are holding – this is ‘Habeas Corpus’ – and release them. No more detention is over. No fines need be paid. We have paid them enough, since we have been paying interest that has been compounding faster than you can pay it down. This is not merely news, but an announcement to all masters that we are no longer their slaves. The locks turn, the doors fly open, the warders have gone, the gate swings wide, our way out is clear before us.
- The Lord calls them fishers of men. A fishman is a hunter who hunts fish. Christ is going to make them hunters of men, but of a particular sort of hunter. All men are hunted and have become prey, and all have been preying on others. These disciples are going out to find those who have been hunted and caught and are trapped in order to release them. All men have become prey and are hunted, and all have been caught in the trap. All of them are struggling, unable to free themselves, and by struggling have only ever become more entangled. The whole environment in which they live has become a kind of darkness and paralysis, a thick, clinging medium in which everyone is held down, and in which everyone is responsible for holding everyone down. In this world, everyone has only one aim, to get you back, to lash out, to wound whoever we can find to blame. In our distress we attribute guilt to anyone and everyone. All of us are thrashing around, caught, and yet lashing out, and so all of us making this mire worse.
This entire morass is the consequence of man’s being hunted by man. This hunting and being hunted has become chaotic and destructive that it is difficult to say where blame lies, so we sum this up by the name Satan, the personification of the pursuit, catching and tying up of mankind, which is the of man’s unreadiness and inability to live with his fellows. Man is afraid, and afraid of them. He is panicked and lashes out. He is stampeded into retribution, trying to get his own back, to inflict pain on whoever inflicted pain on him. The limitlessness of the violence that unrolls one who just wants to see all mankind tied down and thrashing around forever, each only ever able to harm, and to hurt those nearest to them and so endlessly and helplessly to pass on the evil on, in a kind of living destruction. All Israel is sloshing around in the waters of chaos, over their heads in trouble, and with every moment making this worse for themselves.
5. This is where our society is now going, back to a world of envy, viciousness and revenge. As long as our nation honoured Christ and understood that its own flourishing was the result of following him, it remained a civil society. People were not the helpless victims of the cycle of revenge within which all are helpless. Over generations it built up its record of experience about how to be responsible to one another, how to trust one another. But now, over many decades of despising and directing their aggression against Christ, this vast cultural capital has dwindled away, all spent, nothing to show for it. Now it is sinking back into that mire in which everyone is stuck, in which all life is simply lashing out at other people who lash out at you, in which an entirely society is stuck in this vicious environment of turmoil.
The Lord wades in. Christ goes into the water until it goes over his head. This is the meaning of this immersion the river, this baptism with John. He hauls those he catches out onto dry land, one at a time, as it were hauling in a net, with people caught in it or clinging to it as though it were a long rope-ladder. Through all the events of the gospel of Mark we see Jesus hauling the people of Israel out of the water, the underworld domain of death. He pushes through the flood and storm into which the land and people of Israel have fallen, pulling people out, and dragging them to solid ground, out of this violence and turmoil. He cuts us loose from the folds of the endless vengeance, and so extricating us. The more we cling to this rope ladder he has thrown us or this net he is dragging behind him, the more we are pulled free of all the other coils of entanglement which have been holding down.
6. The Lord calls these first men into this first military unit. They are selected. This is their recruitment and conscription. They don’t hesitate. They are now his troops. He will appoint twelve, one for each division, making up the full complement of the army of Israel. These men will go out into the predatory nations of the world and call out of them those who are going to be the troops of this army, a great company of witnesses. The Lord appoints twelve, one for each division, making up the full complement of the army of Israel. These men will go out into the predatory nations of the world and call out of them those who are going to be the troops of this army, a great company of witnesses. They are going to be hunters of men.
Since they are at Capernaum, on the shore of this inland sea of Galilee the Lord likens this hunting to fishing. The fisherman hunts an underwater creature and hauls it up to the surface. Fish don’t want to remain down there, in the dark. They want to be creatures that live in the open, in the air and light as we do. But at the moment, men live in dark dank environment, swimming through the slimy, treacly, glutenous environment created by their own vicious acts. They live in a world of revenge, in which everyone is permanently set against everyone else and so fear another.
These men, the apostles, are now going to be the rescue service, that drag us one by one out of this suffocating mesh of entanglements in which we are drowning. The waves caused by our own acts and our own irresponsibility are swamping us and whipping up a storm. Yet we still have the power to subdue the water, simply by calling out, ‘Lord, have mercy, Lord, save us’.