Thursday, January 21, 2021

Dangerous Succession

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary remarks regarding Mark 1:14-20, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the third Sunday after Epiphany.

I’ve typically seen this passage as a bit of false advertising, where Jesus would say “Follow me” and save “Take up your cross” for later. Now, I believe I was rash in seeing it that way, particularly given how the pericope unfolds in vv.14-15. Nothing gets the exegetical juices flowing like discovering the text anew.

Per usual, your comments are welcomed.

14 Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν  Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν 
κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ 
Yet after the handing over John Jesus came into Galilee preaching the good news of God.
παραδοθῆναι: APInf, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  2) to give over into (one's) power or use
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
κηρύσσων: PAPart, nms, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 
1. After John’s handing over, Jesus comes preaching. John’s message, in part, is described in v.4 as κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς  ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, “a baptism of repentance to forgiveness of sins,” This is essentially the same response that Jesus will command in v.15. (The other part of John’s message is his pointing to one who will follow after him who is greater than he, in vv. 7-8).
2. To me, that suggests a number of things:
a. The timing is significant in that Jesus is picking up what began in John but only after John’s arrest.
b. Jesus embraces his ministry from the start as a dangerous ministry, since he is repeating the message of one who was just notoriously arrested.
3. Mark will pick up the story of John’s arrest and execution in c.6. 
4. The word I have translated as “handing over” (παραδίδωμι) takes on shades of meaning, depending on its use. Mark uses it in 3:19 to describe Judas Iscariot as the one who would “betray” Jesus. It is used in cc.8, 9, and 10, when Jesus discloses that he will be “handed over” and killed. It is used in c.13, the “little apocalypse,” to describe the disciples’ fate of being “handed over” to councils. It is used in c.14 during the last supper when Jesus speaks of being “betrayed” by one of the disciples. And it is used in c.15 when Mark tells of the arrest and crucifixion, as Jesus is “delivered” to Pilate. In our pericope, that which would happen to Jesus after him happened to John first. 

15 καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν  βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ: 
μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ. 
And saying, “The time has been fulfilled and the reign of God has come near. Repent and believe/trust in the good news.”
λέγων: PAPart nms, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
Πεπλήρωται: PerfPI 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full 1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally
ἤγγικεν: PerfAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another  2) to draw or come near to, to approach
μετανοεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent 
πιστεύετε: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in. 
1. This participle, ‘saying,’ corresponds with ‘preaching’ from v.14 – Jesus came preaching “the good news of God” and saying “The time has been fulfilled ….” It seems like the phrase, “The time is fulfilled and the reign of God is at hand” is what Mark means by “the good news of God” in v.14. Then, “Repent and trust in the good news” seems to be how one responds to “the good news of God.”
2. This good news has both a temporal and a spatial reference: The ‘time’ has been fulfilled; the reign of God has come ‘near.’ Both are in the perfect tense.
3. The words “repent” and “trust” are in the imperative voice, following the proclamation in the indicative voice. Robert Gundy (1993, p.70, per Michael Turton) says the phrase for “believe in” (πιστεύω ἐν) occurs nowhere else in Mark, once in John, and then nowhere else in all of Greek literature or Greek papyri. (Many translations make Mark 9:42 “believe in me” but there is no “in me” in the Greek text.)

16 Καὶ παράγων παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν Σίμωνα καὶ 
Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: ἦσαν γὰρ 
And passing alongside the sea of Galilee he saw Simon and Andrew Simon’s brother netcasting in the sea; for they were fishers.
παράγων: PAPart nms: παράγω, 1) pass by  1a) to lead past, lead by
εἶδεν: AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
ἦσαν: IAI 3pl, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ἀμφιβάλλοντας: PAPart apm, (amphib);cast
1. The participle “walking” (παράγων) is also in the same declension as ‘preaching’ and ‘saying’, making the verb/participial construction, “Jesus came – preaching … saying … and passing along ….” It suggests that passing along the sea to find disciples is one piece with preaching and saying.

17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς  Ἰησοῦς, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι 
ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων. 
And Jesus said to them, “Follow behind me, and I will make you to be fishers of people.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ποιήσω: FAI 1s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
γενέσθαι: AMInf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. I know that the phrase “Follow behind me” sounds like a command, but it is made up of Δεῦτε (follow/come, an adverb) … ὀπίσω (after, an adverb) and … μου (me, a pronoun). It may have the feel of something like, “Whaddya say guys …”
2. Is one’s call shaped by a current occupation or something akin to where one already has skills? Would a tax collector be called to become a “fisher of people?” or a “collector of people?” Is calling based on occupations or do occupations simply provide ready and meaningful language for expressing callings?

18 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ. 
And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife 
ἠκολούθησαν: AAI 3p, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him 
1. What is it about this invitation that elicits such an immediate (favorite word in Mark) and unquestioned response? As I mentioned last week, Robert Scharlemann’s book, The Reason of Following (admittedly a difficult but rewarding read,) argues that ‘following’ (he calls it acolouthetic reason, based on the Greek word ἀκολουθέω) is a different kind of reason – different from knowing or doing or feeling, the three traditional philosophical categories of reason. It is related most closely to feeling, but is different, eliciting an immediate response to a call. (I have a slightly fuller explanation of what I recall from the book in last week’s comments.)
2. Scharlemann or no Scharlemann, this is a profound statement in its abruptness. “Immediately … they followed.” Why, we may ask? Mark does not say. And, significantly, the disciples do not ask “Why?” They follow.

19  Καὶ προβὰς ὀλίγον εἶδεν Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν 
ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ καταρτίζοντας τὰ δίκτυα, 
And having gone forward, he saw James the [son] of Zebedee and John his brother, and they [were] in the boat mending the nets. 
προβὰς: AAPart nsm, προβαίνω, 1) to go forwards, go on 
εἶδεν: AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes
καταρτίζοντας:  PAPart apm, καταρτίζω, 1) to render, i.e. to fit, sound, complete  1a) to mend (what has been broken or rent), to repair
1. Some translations supply the word “son” because it seems implied. Likewise, some translations supply the verb “were” (“they were in the boat”) because it seems implied. I am supplying them in brackets to show that they are supplied. I think I like this verse better without them, but it flows more easily with them.

20 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκάλεσεν αὐτούς. καὶ ἀφέντες τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν Ζεβεδαῖον ἐν 
τῷ πλοίῳ μετὰ τῶν μισθωτῶν ἀπῆλθον ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ.
And immediately he called them.  And having left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands, they went away after him. 
ἐκάλεσεν: AAI 3s, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite
ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife 
ἀπῆλθον: AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart  1a) to go away in order to follow any one, go after him,
1. The verb at the root of the participle “having left” (ἀφίημι) is a very flexible word. It can mean leave, divorce, forgive, send away, dismiss, set free, etc. Context determines the best guess.
2. It is curious that Mark does not use “follow” (ἀκολουθέω) here as he did in v.18, but ἀπέρχομαι, “to go away.”

3. In Mark 10: 28-31 Peter says to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus assures him, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” 

In the end, this story seems to be Jesus, stepping into the role that John the Baptizer has filled, taking the risk of being aligned with one who was just handed over and proclaiming the same message. Only now we see that this role involves preaching, saying, and walking along the shore to call disciples. Using the indicative voice, Jesus preaches that "The Reign of God is at hand." Using the imperative voice, Jesus calls to "repent and believe." Using the descriptive voice, Jesus invites fishers of fish to follow after him and become fishers of people. And they do. 


  1. I read somewhere that the "deute" in verse 17 had the force of something similar to calling a dog: "Here, boy" but it is in the plural. Is this phrase simply a Hebraism, or is there something more meaningful here?

  2. I didn't grow up using the term "convicted" in a religious sense, but I wonder if it aligns with Scharlemann's acolouthetic reason. For me, it's hard to read this scripture against the backdrop of nationwide ICE raids, MLK commemorations, and preparations for "Women's March 2.0" without feeling convicted. The message is pretty clear: if I call myself a follower of Jesus, I better get up, get moving, and step beyond my comfort zone into more direct activism on behalf of God's Reign. (My other challenge: preaching on this passage to a community still full of working fishermen, who may receive this word differently!)

    1. Hi RevCelt,
      Yes, I think the word "convicted" might indeed correspond with what Scharlemann is saying. I think it corresponds likewise with Paul Tillich's very similar way of speaking of 'he-autonomy.' PT posits that he-autonomy is different from simple 'autonomy' (self-law) or 'heteronomy' (law from outside). It is when the call from the outside resonates with the longing from the inside.
      I've heard "conviction" used to describe someone left miserable by the feeling. The call story here seems much more liberating.
      Bless you as you listen to your convictions.

  3. re: ἤγγικεν
    I've always appreciated ἤγγικεν, the root of engaged. In a mechanical way it reminds me of the clutch on the car. When we think we have something to do it is like pushing on the clutch and finding ourselves in neutral. But when we relax and follow, the clutch is out and we are able to go. It is the whole "when it's in, it's out; and when it's out, it's in" thing. In this way Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God being engaged says it is about God's action and not ours.

  4. What a very helpful connection, both to the word 'engaged' itself and to a very powerful way of thinking about that word. Thanks Peter.


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive