This week’s readings are remarkably short. The Gospel continues the story of Jesus’ early ministry. The times were turbulent, and dangerous ones for Jewish prophets and teachers, who were easily branded political rebels or dissidents. John the Baptist’s arrest is the signal for Jesus to leave his home in Nazareth and establish himself on the shores of Galilee, the familiar location of so many Gospel stories. It is here that he finds and calls the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John who were to be his ‘core’ disciples and, after his death and resurrection, his apostles.
|The Prophet Jonah -- Tissot|
Mark’s account of this episode is rather briefer than the one given by Matthew, who links the Galilean context to the prophecies of Isaiah. The lectionary, however, establishes another important Biblical resonance that underlines the connection with John the Baptist. Jonah is sent to call Nineveh to repentance, and does so successfully.
Interspersed between the readings from Jonah and Mark, though, is one of those awkward passages that seem inextricably tied to a belief that the world will end very soon. Paul tells the Corinthians to abandon their normal way of life completely, even to the point of ignoring familial obligations to both the living and the dead. We know, of course, that ‘the appointed time’ had not ‘grown short’, since the world is still here almost two thousand years later. Paul’s apocalyptic tone, however, is not without purpose even yet. Repentance does require us to see our normal life in a quite different light, and to radically review our priorities. Without that, discipleship loses its spiritual edge, and degenerates into conventional piety -- just going through the familiar motions.