Eutheos, Aphiemi & Akolutheo
Speaker: The Rev'd Jim Quigley
There’s as sense of urgency to the season after The Epiphany. As our Collect for the Day commends, “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our savior Jesus Christ…”
Unlike other seasons of the church year, seasons like Advent and Lent, perhaps, the season after the Epiphany doesn’t call for contemplation or reflection but rather for action. In what remains of this season the gospel we are invited to pay attention to is Mark’s. The pairing couldn’t be more perfect. Any preacher, indeed anyone whose been attending the Episcopal Church long enough to hear a handful of sermons on his gospel knows that eutheos – immediately as the NRSV translates it – is one of Marks favorite words. Eutheos appears twice in today’s reading, eight times in the first chapter and 42 times in the gospel as a whole.
The King James translation of the bible catches the spirit of Mark’s tone better than does the NRSV: “And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. And straightaway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James son of Zebedee, and John his brother… and straightaway he called them: and they left their father and went after him… And they went into Capernaum; and straightaway on the Sabbath he entered into the Synagogue and taught.” After astounding people with his teaching, straightaway JESUS fame started to spread.
The words in Mark’s call narrative are sparse but compelling. Eutheos means straightaway. Aphiemi means to leave, or to forsake, and also to forgive. Akolutheo means to “go after.” Jesus calls and straightaway they forsook their nets and “went after him.” Mark is already dropping hints as to what fame would eventually bring to JESUS; many will go after him, but only to get him, to hang him. But staying within our context for this season after The Epiphany, we might wonder what was so compelling about JESUS that commanded such an immediate response from those fishermen. Why did they respond straightaway? Context is everything. First century Galilee, the setting for the first half of Mark’s gospel, provides a really good clue.
In year 14 of the Common Era Caesar Augustus died. Herod Antipas was a Tetrarch in Galilee and Tiberius became the ruler of Rome. To earn the emperor’s favor Herod was at work building a new capital city he called Tiberius on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a city whose primary purpose was to regulate the fishing industry and put it fully under the control of Roman interests. At the beginning of today’s gospel story we learn that John had just been arrested. Antipas also built his palace in Galilee, that palace being the location where John the Baptist would soon be beheaded.
Seven miles wide and 13 miles long, the Sea of Galilee is a large freshwater lake. Also called the Sea of Genesseret, Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberius, it’s the lowest freshwater lake on earth. Low lying and located in a rift valley the Sea of Galilee is prone to storms. As serene as this scene in Mark’s Gospel might seem on the surface Mark is not Garrison Keillor telling a story about Lake Wobegon.
During Herod’s rule the local fishing industry in Galilee was being restructured to benefit the urban elite throughout the Roman Empire. The fish were salted or made into sauce and exported to Greeks and Romans settling in Palestine. The once local fishing industry had become state-regulated. Fishing leases were controlled and fish products were taxed. Leases, taxes and tolls were exorbitant and the roads, harbors and processing factories marginalized and impoverished formerly self-sufficient fishing families such as the Zebedees in today’s gospel.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. “Immediately he called them and immediately they followed…” The ready response of Jesus’ first disciples was very likely an act of desperation as much as a leap of faith and the words “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” are more probably more prophetic than pastoral. While “fishing for people” is a phrase associated with the soul-saving work of evangelism, its biblical roots in the Hebrew Scriptures are far more edgier. In Jeremiah YHWH sends for “many fishermen” to catch those have polluted the land with idols (Jer 16.16-18). The prophet Amos warns those who oppress the poor and the needy that the days are surely coming when “they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks (Amos 4.11). So Mark’s story of the calling of JESUS’ disciples to become fishers of people isn’t an altar call; it’s more like Martin Luther King Jr. joining with sanitation workers in Memphis or Caesar Chavez uniting migrant workers in California. “Si se Puede!”
When Simon and James and their brothers Andrew and John forsook their nets and followed Jesus they left what little economic security they had and the social fabric of family ties that had previously sustained them. I think here of Enrique’s Journey, of migrants jumping on trains. When push comes to shove you do what you have to do. I’ll admit that I don’t quite know, in hearing Mark’s story this way, what kind of action God might require from people like us in this season of action, in a time that we pray that we can “answer readily” the call of our savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of God’s Salvation.
But we all know… we are living in desperate times. Our political system is broken. Demonization, polarization and castigation are words that aptly describe current public discourse. 700,00 DACA recipients live in fear of deportation. We live in the age of climate change and #ME Too. Where shall we begin and where will it end? Seems like it might be easier to stick with the familiar, the status quo… to just stay in the boat… and hope for the best. But surely God wants more from us than that.
For all people, desperate times lead to desperate measures. For people of faith, desperate times call for deeper, more profound and more prophetic acts of faith and witness to the Gospel. In our customary time of silence in response to Mark’s good news perhaps we might meditate on those things that are immediately within our power to change. We might ask ourselves what needs forsaking, what do we need to let go of? What needs forgiving? What in our lives demands our immediate attention? Surely what we are called to do is not a matter of taking sides or trying to convince those who disagree with us that we are right and they are wrong. Surely the change we seek is not in the life of another, or in this or that system, but only within our hearts. In this season of action, help us to respond, straightaway Lord, to your call for our witness to your goodness and love.