It’s now and always!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 11 November 2018
Any of us who’ve experienced the transition from peacetime to war, will know what a dramatic transition that is! Think back to the Gulf War. Tension and anxiety rise; there’s a strong sense of urgency and single-mindedness; little else is talked about; it occupies much of our attention.
The stories told of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have a similar feel to them. With the death of John the Baptist, tension rises, a sense of urgency and single-mindednessprevails.
Jesus comes into Galilee and begins preaching. A transition has taken place. The law and the prophets were until John. Now the time has come and the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he – Jesus’ three-year ministry has begun!
One of the things that any country at war does is have a recruitment drive: ‘Your country needs you!’
Jesus too begins his call-up: ‘Follow me!’
We heard how Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets and responded. We heard too how James and John left not only their nets but their father as well!
There’s an edge to Jesus’ demands. What about their father Zebedee, now abandoned by his two sons and left with the hired men? What about Simon’s wife whom we never hear about but we assume was around since Simon has a mother in law whom Jesus heals?
From the experience of wartime we know that sacrifices are made that in peacetime are quite unreasonable – parents, wives, children are left behind and lives are put on the line.
But was the time in which Jesus exercised his ministry comparable to a country at war? If so it may help us put in context this dramatic beginning to Mark’s gospel and the urgency of Jesus’ ministry.
Galilee where Jesus began his ministry was an oppressed region suffering chronic political and economic instability. The country was occupied by Roman troops and this inevitably led to resentment and frustration. But that was not all!
Large wealthy landowners demanded high rents as well as part of the harvest from their tenants. Tenants inevitably got into debt, particularly if harvests were poor, and what way out was there?
A number of options were open to people.
Because of the political and economic instability, some people simply dropped everything and took to the hills.
Others disappeared by emigrating. They dreamt of a better life in another country. There were the usual stories of people getting rich abroad, and some took this option – Alexandria in Egypt was a favourite destination.
Inevitably others became beggars and homeless. As debts rose, landowners evicted people from their homes and they then took to the streets and roads of Galilee, finding places to sleep and beg. If you were in any way disadvantaged or disabled, blind or a leper, this was your permanent way of life and others joined you, forced by the economic pressures of the day.
Some left home to become freedom fighters, part of the resistance movement, Zealots as they were called. An armed uprising seemed the only solution to the Zealots. ‘Follow us into the hills of Galilee and join the struggle.’
So the people of Galilee were desperate.
Families were torn apart – with some disappearing abroad to seek a new life, some going into the hills to join the Zealots, some taking to the streets to beg and avoid imprisonment, and others fleeing into the wilderness!
This last group rejected armed resistance but instead opted for a radical religious life in community, praying for God to intervene. The Qumran or Essene community were such a grouping.
These were some of the choices that confronted people when Jesus began his ministry. Both his call to follow him and the demands he made of his disciples can be better understood when we know something of the social and political context of life in Galilee.
Today we remember those who made sacrifices asked of them during wartime that, during peacetime, would have been quite unreasonable. To appreciate their sacrifice we have not only to understand their context but also the rationale for going to war. In deep gratitude to those who gave their lives – thankful that that time has passed!
But what hasn’t passed is the fact that we’re always faced with difficult choices. How are we going to live our lives, what are we going to do with them, what set of values are we going to follow, to what end are we putting our time and energy?
That’s the choice Jesus presents us with, and it’s one that never passes, never goes away – it’s now and always!