Mark 1:14-20 (NRSV)
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
When I think about this passage, the typical thoughts immediately jump to the forefront of my head. Hundreds of hours of listening to the most famous Bible passages from childhood come slamming back into my reality — what was it I learned about Jesus’ calling of the first disciples? Is it that Jesus calls not the royal and famous but the lowly and regular man to his side? Jesus will make us into something far greater than that of a traditional fisherman/woman? For Jesus, the new disciples give up their entire lives to be his followers? All of these thoughts crowd out my mind, forcing me to see what I expect rather than what I should perceive on a basic level from an old, familiar story. They blind me to what is right there, plain and simple; that the disciples just know who Jesus is.
See, I can often be so caught up in trying to hear what I would expect from God that I can miss him standing right in front of me. The first 4 disciples called likely had their own expectations of who Jesus was. Simon, Andrew, James and John would have most certainly heard of Jesus at the very least. More likely than that, the fishermen had heard what he proclaimed and knew of his baptism in the River Jordan (Mark 1:9-11). They had built a picture of who the Messiah was and who he would call, an image shaped by cultural expectation that excluded them based on structural and systemic biases. Yet when the One shows up on the shoreline and calls them to his side, they just know who he really was. They drop whatever they were doing, they drop their livelihoods, they leave their families because Jesus was it. Amongst all of what they thought they knew, Jesus called out with a power to stop anyone dead in his path. And stop they did. And then listened. And then responded.
When I begin to take this into account, a lot of the pressure and fear about missing the boat on what Jesus is trying to do disappears (Some kind of weird Christian FOMO coming out here…). I remove the layers of expectation which cloud my vision, my mind no longer straining as I struggle to keep my eyes peeled for the Spirit. I am still listening and waiting for his Word but this story from the first disciples reassures me I will not miss it. For when God speaks, it appears he is unmistakable. We will just know when it is Him.
"18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
More than this, I am not just recognising God at work when he hits me - I’m not letting my own head take over and do the thinking thereafter. I know I don’t have to over-analyse the way in which God is taking me. Surely, just as the disciples could give up on their security and livelihoods to take on this new direction, I can do the same without fear. I know in that first recognition of his power, he is with me and moreover, his word will one day strike me just as it did before. This takes a certain level of spiritual discernment for when the lines get blurred in everyday life. Yet this story of the first callings remind me that Jesus, real and true, cannot be experienced as anything else. It would be like someone planted a one-hundred story skyscraper in the middle of Dublin. It’s unmissable, it’s undeniable and it throws any expectation of what we thought would be there out the window. In this way, it is irresistable.
Alex McElwee is a Dublin born student just entering into college as a fresh-faced and bushy-tailed nineteen year old. He hopes to enroll in the UCD arts block in September to study English and Classical Civilisations. Alex has loved writing from a young age, a passion that he likes to use in conjunction with his faith. When you’re not catching him waxing poetically in his notebook you might find Alex reading the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, drinking coffee by the litre or working out in a suspect warehouse gym.