Ready or Not: Reflections on Mark 1:4-20

Lectionary Reflections on Mark 1:4-20
Sunday, January 22, 2012

One of my students, trained as an attorney, told me of an article she recently read in a journal for Alabama lawyers. It was written by a judge and dealt with the top ten things attorneys should never say to judges. The first is, "With all due respect, your honor," because it is a prelude to disagreeing or objecting, not showing respect. The second is, "I'm not prepared today because . . . ." I don't know what the other eight are. Two is enough.

If Jesus walked by me while I was casting my nets into the sea and said, "Follow me," I probably would have said, "With all due respect, Rabbi, I'm not prepared today to follow you today because . . . ."

I like time to mull things over. As a reader, I appreciate that Matthew and Luke give me four chapters to get used to the idea, to meet the one who's going to be calling, know his background, and sense something of what the risks will be. Luke has the dedication and birth of John the Baptist, and Mary and Elizabeth's house party, and Mary's song, and John's birth, and Jesus' birth, and . . . and . . . .

Matthew has the genealogy and the birth of Jesus and the visit of the wise men and the escape to Egypt and the massacre of the innocents, and . . . and . . . .

John's gospel has the lofty prologue that lays Jesus' ID on the table. We're tipped off to his being the Word made flesh before we ever meet him. In John's gospel, the first two disciples that follow Jesus are disciples of John who follow Jesus before he ever calls them (1:37). John acts as his publicist (1:36 says, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!").

Maybe Matthew, Luke and John have got it right in giving us time to decide to follow or not. Spiritual directors advise people who are making a life-altering decision to take days, even weeks, to consider each potential choice, to prayerfully enter into it, to investigate all the implications, to ruminate on all the ramifications. "Look before you leap" is a time-honored proverb (not from the Bible, but time-honored nonetheless). You don't quit a job without giving notice. You don't leave your dad holding the bag with the family business and walk away without looking back.

But this is the gospel of Mark, not Luke, Matthew, or John. Mark would argue that our being called by Jesus is a situation that calls for another time-honored proverb: "He who hesitates is lost." This is the gospel that seeks to convey the urgency of Jesus' mission and message. This is the gospel whose favorite word is "immediately." Mark uses the word "straightaway" or "immediately" over 40 times in his 16 chapters. It occurs several times just in the first chapter: "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness" (1:12); "Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (1:18); "Immediately he called them" (1:20); "Immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught" (1:21); "Immediately the leprosy left him" (1:42).

Mark wants us to get on with it. So we shouldn't be surprised that he takes the remote and fast- forwards to the scene he chooses as the starting point of his gospel: "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness . . . ."He gives us a line or two of description of Jesus (1:7, 8), then it's baptism, temptation and you're on: "Follow me."

Here is our cue. Are we going to drop our nets, leave Dad in the boat and follow Jesus? Or are we going to say, "With all due respect, your honor, I'm not prepared today because . . . ."

Why should an attorney never say to a judge, "I'm not prepared today, because . . ."? I assume it's because, as far as the judge and his docket is concerned, today is the day. It's go time, and attorneys are to stand and speak as best they can. Now, not tomorrow.

That's often how life comes at us. Death comes to a loved one and we say, "I'm not prepared to deal with death today." We find out we're going to be a parent and we may say, "This is wonderful news, but I'm not prepared to be a parent today." A new opportunity knocks on our door, and we say, "I'm not prepared to answer the door today because . . . ." When life calls upon us to change, to risk, our response id often, "I'm not prepared to change today. I'm not prepared to risk today. I'm not prepared."

When I first started out in ministry, I was an associate pastor at a large church, working with a gifted senior pastor who had a quirky sense of humor. I preached every fourth Sunday. At 10:55 am each Sunday, we would line up in the narthex at the front of the chancel choir to lead the procession into the church. He thought it amusing to look at me expectantly on the first, second, or third weeks of the month, and ask, "What is your sermon going to be about this morning?"

1/17/2012 5:00:00 AM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.