14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
The World Behind the Text
See general introduction to Mark.
The world of the text
Text & textual features
The text of Mark 1:14-20 is presented in two distinct sections. The first (vs 14-15), is the proclamation of the good news with the announcement of the imminent kingdom of God and the call to repentance. The second (vs 16-20), tells of Jesus’ calling fishermen, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to follow him as disciples.
The first part of the text is replete with important terms which will subsequently feature throughout the Gospel narrative. They are presented as a kind of programmatic statement, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and will frame much of what follows in Mark’s Gospel. Chief among these is the notion of the ‘kingdom of God’ (vs 15), which is the principal focus of Jesus’ message and which features regularly in the Gospel narrative especially in the chapter of parables (Mark 4) and in Jesus’ preaching shortly before he enters Jerusalem (Mark 10). The phrasing of Jesus’ announcement ‘the kingdom of God has come near’ (vs 14) is one that has intrigued scholars with the sense that this inbreaking kingdom of God is palpably present, yet somehow still to come.
The announcement of the kingdom of God is immediately preceded by the phrase ‘the time is fulfilled’ (vs 14) which would have held a particularly strong resonance for those awaiting the coming of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets. Mackinnon notes that for Mark,
What God had been leading up to for centuries was about to be realised in the mission of Jesus.http://johnmckinnon.org/index.php/mark1v14-15
The author of this Gospel tells us that Jesus was ‘proclaiming the good news of God’ (vs 14). The Greek term used for good news is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) which is the etymological parallel to the term ‘Gospel’ and the foundation of the terms ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelise’. Accordingly, the Gospels are the ‘good news’ and authors of the four Gospel texts are referred to as the four evangelists. In response to Jesus’ proclaiming of the good news of God (vs 14) the listeners are called to ‘repent’ and ‘believe in the good news’ (vs 15). An important textual feature in the call to ‘repent’ and ‘believe’ is the use of the Greek present tense which conveys the idea of a continuous action rather than a single action. Thus, it could well be rendered as ‘keep on repenting’ and ‘keep on believing’ to emphasise the sense of continuing with this response.
The second part of this text has Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (vs 16) and calling fishermen to follow him. He first calls Simon and Andrew (vs 16) and then James and John (vs 18). In both instances the term ‘immediately’ is used to indicate the way the disciples respond to the call. The Greek word εὐθύς (euthus) translated as immediately is a favourite of the author. It appears over forty times in the Gospel of Mark and ten times in Chapter 1 alone. It is used to create the sense of urgency which is characteristic of Mark’s Gospel and the needs of his community, fearful of their own demise. The calling also includes significant repetition of the word ‘follow’ emphasising that Jesus’ call of these disciples will have them ‘fish[ing] for people’ (vs 17), a symbolic foreshadowing of the disciples sharing in the missionary character of Jesus’ work.
Characters & Setting
This text is set in the region of Galilee on the shores of the lake to where Jesus has come following his baptism by John in the Jordan River (Mark 1:9-11) and his temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). While no particular town is identified, the text refers to Jesus passing ‘along the Sea of Galilee’ (vs 16) made evident in the work of the four men. At the beginning of this text Jesus is ‘proclaiming the good news of God’ (14), however, the text does not provide any information about the audience. Jesus’ proclamation follows the arrest of John the Baptist whose ministry preceded that of Jesus (Mark 1:2-11).
The other characters mentioned in the story are the four fisherman who are called to follow Jesus. These are the brothers Simon and Andrew and James and John. Simon is later given the name Peter (Mark 3:16), he will become the most prominent of the group of disciples in the Gospel narrative, leader of the inner circle that these four comprise. The brothers James and John are identified as the sons of Zebedee, however, the Gospel text does not provide any further information about Zebedee apart from his role as a fisherman.
This text includes several important concepts which are fundamental to an understanding of the Gospel.
The kingdom of God:
As noted above, Jesus proclaims the imminence of the kingdom of God (vs 14), a concept which is at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry and an essential element in the lives of those who seek to follow him. The kingdom of God, in simple terms, is a way of living and ordering the world which is in harmony with God’s will. Insofar as a person is able to live their life according to God’s will, they can be said to be living the kingdom of God. Christians look to the example of Jesus’ life and ministry to develop their understanding of how to live their lives. As they do so they recognise the importance of values such as justice, peace, love and compassion which are profoundly associated with the kingdom of God. Not only do Christians seek to live their own lives in harmony with God’s will, they also strive to transform the world around them to more perfectly reflect the example of Jesus. Thus, for a Christian living the kingdom of God involves a distinctive approach to living their own life as well as a commitment to work towards transformation of the world to overcome injustice and oppression.
Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God includes the element that it ‘has come near’ (14). This phrasing of the imminence of the kingdom of God has an elusive dimension in its expression. It creates the impression of a present reality as well as something which is yet to come. Traditionally, Christians have understood the kingdom of God as something truly present in the world today but also as something that can only ultimately be fulfilled in the afterlife. Thus, while Christians strive to build the kingdom of God on earth, it can only ever be experienced in its fulness in heaven.
In proclaiming the kingdom of God, Jesus also announces that ‘the time is fulfilled’ (vs 14). This phrase indicates the coming of the messianic age heralded by the prophets of the Old Testament. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise that the Messiah would come and save God’s people. The term Messiah in Hebrew, and its equivalent, Christ in Greek, means anointed one. In this text, by announcing that the time is fulfilled, Jesus is identifying himself as the anointed one of God and with the fulfilment of God’s long-awaited promise of the Messiah.
The terms ‘repent’ and ‘believe’ (vs 15) are used in the Greek present tense which indicates a continued or repeated action. Repentance, μετάνοια (metanoia), means to turn around. Its intention is that the listener turn away from something destructive and turn towards something constructive. Thus, in the context of the Gospel message it means to turn away from sin and to ‘believe in the good news’ (vs 15). It conveys the idea of a reorientation of life and has a sense of a definitive action beyond mere assent. Repent and believe is a call to active and ongoing conversion of life beyond a passive intellectual assent.
The call of these four men begins the group of the community who followed Jesus – some physically, others in their manner of living. For Mark, following will be the hallmark of a disciple. These ‘students’ or ‘learners’ are required for the completion of Jesus’ ministry. Their role is to follow but to learn so they can do. Although these four will fail in much of their work, their willingness to be involved initially is of note. Levi will be similarly called in chapter 2, reminding us that the discipleship group was not just Mark’s 12.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
This text is a powerful introduction to the life and ministry of Jesus. It clearly situates Jesus as the fulfilment of the messianic promise and heralds the coming of the kingdom of God. For Christians today, the call to live according to Gods’ will and to build the kingdom of God remains at the absolute core of the Christian vocation. This call urges Christians to look beyond the confines of their places of worship and personal devotion to embrace the call to discipleship and to accept the essential missionary character of following Jesus.
Contemporary Church teaching has helped Christians to understand that the idea of the kingdom of God is bigger than the reaches of the Christian Church. Indeed, there are many women and men of good will who contribute meaningfully to building the kingdom of God without associating themselves with the message of Jesus or the community of the Church. It is a challenge for contemporary Christians to recognise and welcome the many ways that God is at work in the world and to resist the inclination to think that God’s mission is exclusive to those of the Christian faith.
The story of the beginning of the Galilean Ministry features in the lectionary as the Gospel Reading for the Third Sunday in Ordinary time (Year B). Pope Francis has reflected on this text in a number of his homilies. Most recently he did so during the celebration of Eucharist in the Vatican Basilica on January 24th 2021, and during the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square on the same day. (http://www.popefrancishomilies.com/mark)
Additionally, part of this text is also included in the Gospel Reading for the First Sunday of Lent (Year B) which is Mark 1:12-15 including the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (12-13) and the Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Galilean Ministry (14-15).