Repenting The Family Business

Repenting The Family Business December 7, 2023

The prophet Elijah was instructed to find Elisha, the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, and anoint him as a prophet who will one day take his place. When he finds Elisha, he is plowing a field with eleven hired hands. They are each behind a plow pulled by an ox. Elijah passes by him and throws his mantle onto Elisha. The prophet is calling him away from his family and wealth into a life of prophecy. Elisha slaughters his oxen, breaks up his wooden equipment to cook them, and gives the meat away. He makes the commitment to a new life then and there. By his action, he says, there is no going back.
There was nothing sinful about Elisha’s life before being called to prophesy. It could be said that once he was called then disobeying that call would be sinful. When he asks Elijah if he may go kiss his mother and father goodbye, the prophet tells Elisha his response to the call is entirely up to him. Then he makes the full commitment. (1 Kings 19:19-21)
We always think of repentance in relation to sin. When co-celebrating a wedding with a Catholic priest, during the rehearsal, we came to the benediction. Father Patrick gave his blessing, turned to me, and said, “Now you do what you all do.” I was stuck because the blessing given at the end of Catholic weddings are the exact same blessings given at one’s we perform. Not knowing what to do, I stepped over in front of the kneeling couple and raised my arms over them as the priest did and declared, “Go and sin no more.”
Repentance in relation to individual sins is easy to understand. You stop doing whatever it is you have been doing. But what about the attitude toward sin itself? Or what about situations that are not necessarily sinful?
Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news.” The good news is this declaration of the nearness of the kingdom of God. One chooses to believe in it or not. But if we choose to believe in it, repentance is required.
The New Testament will translate a few different words as repentance. The word Mark uses here is a change in perception and perspective. Jesus asks us to reconsider how our lives are being lived. When Simon and Andrew are called, they change their way of living. They leave the fishing nets on the shore.
Kingdom Business
Do students seek teachers; or do teachers seek students. The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I have heard this quote given many times. But he continued to say, “When the student is truly ready, the teacher will disappear.” Mark says that Simon and Andrew are fishermen. Jesus tells them he will make them fishermen for people.
James and John leave their father with his hired men. They exchange the family business for the business of the Kingdom. Fishing nets or dragnets are symbolic in the Old Testament of judgment. People are being gathered for judgment. In the gospels, they mean something else. The image is more positive. People are being gathered for salvation. Like Elisha these young men are being given a task that takes them away from what they always knew.
This is the kind of talk that makes parents uncomfortable. Cult leaders use the same words and rhetoric and even compare themselves favorably to Jesus. Zebedee, the father of James and John, apparently raises no objection to his sons following this teacher who calls them. Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, criticizes Jesus on this very point. But this is not what Jesus does. God reigning in Heaven is a given for most people. God reigning in Heaven and on Earth is not a given for most people. People who focus on Heaven have an escapist attitude about their lives. People focusing solely on life in this world are trying to escape themselves by believing they are somehow better by acquisition of stuff, land, money, books, or whatever they decide to pursue.
Repentance and The Perspective of the Kingdom
People focused only on Heaven tend to see other people as sinful and worthless. People focused only on this world see other people as either greedy or underachievers trying to make themselves and others believe they are the best example of what people should be.
Disciples of Jesus pray God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We strive to be on earth what we should be in heaven. We pray for it and then we do it. When Zebedee watches his sons walk away, he knows two things. He knows who they are and who they should be. Maybe this teacher will help them become who they should be? Since these are the same two men who want fire to rain down on a town of the Samaritans, one wonders if there is not a sigh of relief given by everyone else when they leave.
Jesus called two pairs of brothers from different types of families for the work of the kingdom. In Lent, we are going to be asked to fast from something that is not necessarily sinful so that without it we may be able to see how pursuing that one thing affects our walk with God. Many of us need to start searching though. We may not recognize what it is we pursue for the sake of something far less than the kingdom of God. We need to know.

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