Preaching and Calling Disciples

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. . . Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:15, 17 ESV)

Mark 1:14-20

In this section of Mark’s narrative, Jesus conducts two actions: preaching and calling disciples.

Mark’s brief statement in verses 14-15 is a brief, general summary of Jesus’ actions. Jesus’ preaching proclaims Good News: the reign of God is at hand. He implores his listeners to repent and believe. Two observations:

  • Both “repent” and “believe” are present, active imperatives in the Greek text. Generally, this construction indicates a continuous, ongoing action and not a one-time transaction.
  • The verb “repent” (Greek metanoeo) literally means “change one’s mind”; in classical Greek usage, this verb has more to do with the mind and will than it does with the emotions. However, the word is used largely in a religious sense in the New Testament. (See also the use of “repent” in this week’s Old Testament lection from Jonah 3.)

Like John 1:43-51, Mark’s gospel relates the calling of the first disciples. Two of the four names are the same, but the story is related differently. Jesus’ call in Mark is direct and unavoidable: “Follow me.” Mark emphasizes the consequence of accepting Jesus’ call: the fishermen will become “fishers” of men and women. Jesus is not simply a peripatetic teacher who enlightens his disciples’ minds and hearts. He does not teach so that people can think deep thoughts, feel deep feelings or have solitary experiences. Rather, he is forming a community. The evangelical community will grow as disciples call disciples. This was also John’s point in the Fourth Gospel, but John uses different narrative details to achieve that aim.

Mark also emphasizes the immediate response of the first disciples. “And immediately” they left their nets and boats and fathers. “And immediately” is a phrase characteristic of Mark. “Immediately” (Greek eutheos) occurs 39 times in Mark’s gospel. It appears only 39 more times throughout the remainder of the New Testament. The modern mind wants to know the detail behind the story. Did the disciples know Jesus? Had they heard his message and thought it over? How can someone just drop everything based on a single sentence from a wandering preacher? Mark cares for none of this. His point is simple and unmistakable: the proper response to a divine call is immediate and unconditional obedience.