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Mark 1:16-20 - Homilies By J.j. Given

Parallel passages: Matthew 4:18-22 ; Luke 5:1-11 .—

The call of the first four disciples.

I. PREVIOUS AND LESS FORMAL CALL . Our Lord now calls to his side the first four disciples—Andrew and John, Peter and James. With the former pair he had already made acquaintance when they were disciples of John the Baptist. The account which St. John in his Gospel gives of the matter is complementary, and throws light on it, enabling us to understand more clearly how it was that these two brethren showed such alacrity and readiness in now obeying the Saviour's more formal call, and in following him. Andrew was one of the two disciples whose attention the Baptist directed to Jesus as "the Lamb of God," and John was in all probability the other, though, with his usual reserve, he does not name himself in the narrative. These two were privileged to spend a day with Christ, by special invitation, from ten o'clock in the morning, if we adopt the modern reckoning; otherwise from four p.m. Andrew was the means of bringing his brother Simon Peter to Christ, and John may have rendered the same signal service to his brother James. In the interval between the first and this more formal call, these disciples had returned to their daily duties, biding their time till the Master would require their more special and active services.

II. THE MISSIONARY SPIRIT OF ANDREW . The Christian spirit is in its very nature missionary. As soon as Andrew, with whom in one sense the Christian Church begins, got good for his own soul, he wished to share it with others; soon as he found Christ for himself, he set about making him known to others. His charity, too, begins at home, for he does not rest satisfied with the great discovery he had been favored with, nor does he selfishly keep it to himself, he immediately goes in quest of his own brother, to communicate to him the good news. But though charity in his case began at home, it did not confine itself to such narrow domestic limits. On two other occasions we find Andrew similarly employed in bringing persons to Christ. It was he that brought the lad with the five barley loaves and the two small fishes to Christ, as we read in John 6:8 . Not only so; it was Andrew who, in company with his townsman Philip, introduced to the Saviour those Greeks who, having come up to worship at the feast, expressed their earnest wish for that interview, saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus." And now that Andrew, in the fullness of his brotherly affection, had brought Peter to Christ, Andrew and Peter were bound together ever after, in a dearer, because a double, bond of brotherhood. Here is an example worthy of imitation, and that not only by the brethren of the same family, but by dwellers in the same neighborhood and members of the same community, who may have shared with us in the amusements of childhood or the employments of youth, or who still walk side by side with us in manhood on the journey of life. Nay, as far as in us lies, by proxy, if not in person, we must seek to be instrumental in brining our fellow-creatures of every name and clime to the foot of the cross, and in thus winning the world for Christ.

III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THESE DISCIPLES . While Andrew and Peter were brothers and joint-occupants of the same dwelling—as we learn from John 6:29 , owing to St. Mark's attention, to minute details—we are informed by St. Luke that James and John were partners in trade ( κοινωνοί ), i.e. in a sort of fishing firm, with Simon, and so sharers in the general profits of the little company. They were also fellow-workers, for they are called, some verses earlier in the same chapter, sharers in the work. Diligence in business, whatever our employment may be, is an important duty, and one which God is sure to acknowledge and bless; while Satan is ever ready to find mischief for idle hands to do. Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, when the angel of the Lord, appearing unto him in that bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed, sent him to bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt. Gideon was threshing wheat by the wine-press, to hide it, when he was summoned to save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Saul was making search for the lost asses of his father, when he was taken by Samuel and anointed with oil to be captain over the Lord's inheritance. David was tending a few sheep in the wilderness, when God called him to the high office of shepherd of his people Israel. Elisha was "ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth," when Elijah cast his mantle upon him in token of his becoming his assistant and successor in the prophetic office.


1 . Name of the lake. "The Lake of Gennesaret," as St. Luke accurately calls this sheet of water so famous in sacred story, is termed" the Sea of Galilee" by St. Matthew and St. Mark, "the Sea of Tiberias" also by St. John, and in the Old Testament "the Sea of Chinnereth," i.e. harp-like in shape, of which "Gennesaret" may be a corruption, if the latter word be not derived from two Hebrew words meaning "gardens of princes" ( ganne satire ) or "garden of Sharon" ( gan sharon ); while it gets the designation "of Galilee" from the province in which it is situated and that of " Tiberias" from the Roman emperor Tiberias, in compliment to whom the town Tiberias was so named by Herod Antipas, its founder. From this, too, comes the modern name by which the lake is sometimes named Bahr-al-Tabariyeh.

2 . The shape and size of the lake. We have already referred to its shape as resembling a harp. It is somewhat oval, and very like a pear in form; while its length is twelve miles and a quarter by six and three quarters in breadth at its widest part. The depression of the lake is remarkable—. between six hundred and seven hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. Its waters, reflecting the blue of the sky above, are clear, transparent, and sweet to the taste; while all sorts of fish, largely contributed by the numerous streams that enter it, abound therein.

3 . Scenery and surrou n di n gs. The margin of the lake is surrounded by a level beach, here covered with smooth sand or small shells, there strewn with coarser shingle, and discernible as a white line encompassing the lake. This beach ( αἰγιαλός ), so often mentioned in the Gospels, while laved on one side by the bright waters of the lake, is fringed on the other side in many parts by shrubs and oleanders with their rosy-red blossoms. From this shore-line rise gradually in most places the surrounding hills, though to no considerable height, with brown outline but ever-varying tints; while away in the distance are seen in white lines along the sky the snowy peaks of Hermon; also on the eastern side the undulating table-lands commencing in Gaulonitis run southward from Caesarea Philippi down to the Yarmuck, and onward through Peraea. But coming close to the lake and commencing at Kerak, we proceed northward to the hot springs, near to which extend the ruins of Tiberias now Tabariyeh. This was the noble city where once "the Jewish pontiff fixed his throne," and where the Sanhedrin was established; where, moreover, existed for three centuries the metropolis and university of Judaism. Near this place are steep rocks and a mountain approaching the water's edge. Further north we reach Magdala, now a miserable village called Mejdel , where Mary Magdalene had her home. It is situated at the southern extremity of the plain of Gennesaret, now called El Ghuweir , "the little hollow." Here again the mountains recede, and this plain on the north-western shore of the lake is formed; its extent is two miles and a half long and one mile broad. It is now covered with brushwood and some patches of corn, though once so celebrated for fertility and beauty. The description of it by Josephus has been often quoted; it is as follows:—"One may call this place the ambition of nature, when it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together. It is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruits beyond man's expectation, but preserves them a great while. It supplies man with its principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually during ten months of the year, and the rest of the fruits, as they become ripe together, through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is watered from a most fertile fountain." The abundant waters that irrigate this plain proceed from a large round basin of antique structure, called Ain-el-Medawara, or Round Fountain; or according to others, from the fountain called Ain-et-Tabiga. At the other or northern extremity of the plain are the ruins of Khan Minyeh, marking, perhaps, the site of ancient Chinnereth, but wrongly identified by some with Capernaum Close to this is the Fountain of the Fig Tree, called Ain-et-Tin, with its rather indifferent water; and a quarter of an hour further in the same direction brings us to the little bay and great spring of Tabiga, supposed, as we have seen, by some to be that of which Josephus speaks as watering the plain of Gennesaret. A mile and a half further northward we find the ruins of Tell Hum , rightly identified, as we think, with the ancient Capernaum, Kerr-ha-hum being changed into Tell Hum by abridging the termination into hum , and substituting for Kerr , a village, Tell, a heap, when a heap of rubbish was all that remained of it. If Tell Hum be in reality Capernaum, then Kerazeh , two miles and a half from the lake, and about two miles north from Tell Hum, is Chorazin. Two miles further onward bring us to mounds and heaps of stones called Abu Zany, at the northern mouth of the Jordan, identified by the author of the ' Land and the Book' with Bethsaida of Galilee—the native place of Andrew and Peter and Philip; while on the opposite bank are ruins which the same writer considers to be Bethsaida Julias. With the east side of the lake we have less to do, and the very few spots on that side of any importance have less interest for us. There is the very fertile and well-watered plain of Butaiha along the north-east shore of the lake, which bears a close resemblance to the plain of Gennesaret on the north-west shore. There are besides the ruins of Khersa , the ancient Gergesa, on the left bank of the Wady Semakh; the remains of Gamala, on a hill near the Wady Fik; and the ruins of Um Keis , the ancient Gadara, a long way southward.

4 . State of matters at present. In the days of our Lord and his disciples the fisheries yielded a profitable revenue, while one, perhaps two, of the villages on its shores, viz. Western and Eastern Bethsaida, "house of fish," got their names therefrom. The white sails of vessels, amounting to some thousands, were seen in its waters, from the ship of war or merchantman down to the fishing-smack or pleasure-boat. Its surface was astir with life and energy and joy. Now a single miserable bark is all that furrows its waves, and even that is sometimes difficult to procure. The noise and bustle and activities of numerous villages and towns are hushed in unbroken silence.

5 . The sacredness of this district. Here indeed is holy ground. "Five little towns," says Renan, "of which humanity will speak for ever as much as of Rome and of Athens, were, at the time of our Lord, scattered over the space that extends from the village of Mejdel to Tell Hum;" the towns he refers to are Magdala, Dalmanutha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. Elsewhere he says," We have a fifth Gospel, lacerated, but still legible ( lacere, mais lisible encore )," in the harmony of the gospel narrative with the places therein described. It was here Jesus called his first disciples; it was here he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; it was here from its deck he taught the pressing crowds that lined the shore; it was here he walked upon the waters; it was here he stilled the storm; it was here, after his resurrection, he was known to the disciples by the great draught of fishes; it was here he directed them to bring of the fish thus caught and "come and dine." "What," says Dr. Thomson in 'The Land and the Book,' "can be more interesting? A quiet ramble along the head of this sacred sea! The blessed feet of Emmanuel have hallowed every acre, and the eye of Divine love has gazed a thousand times upon this fair expanse of lake and land. Oh! it is surpassingly beautiful at this evening hour. Those western hills stretch their lengthening shadows ever it, as loving mothers drop the gauzy curtains round the cradle of their sleeping babes. Cold must be the heart that throbs not with unwonted emotion. Son of God and Saviour of the world! with thee my thankful spirit seeks communion here on the threshold of thine earthly home." Still more beautiful and touching are the verses of the sainted McCheyne on the sea of Galilee, of which, though so well known, we venture to cite the three following

"How pleasant to me thy deep blue wave,

O Sea of Galileo!

For the glorious One who came to save

Hath often stood by thee.

"Graceful around thee the mountains meet,

Thou calm reposing sea;

But ah, far more! the beautiful feet

Of Jesus walked o'er thee.

"O Saviour I gone to God's right hand!

Yet the same Saviour still,

Graved on thy heart is this lovely strand

And every fragrant hill."

V. MANNER OF THEIR WORK AND ACTUAL ENGAGEMENT WHEN CALLED , Simon and Andrew were actually engaged in fishing when the Master called them; James and John were mending, or rather preparing ( καταρτίζοντας ), their nets. Here we are taught the right use and proper economy of time. When not actually engaged in the labours of our calling we may do much in preparing for it, either taking necessary rest and refreshment for our bodies, and so acquiring vigor by repose, or in getting our apparatus or equipments of whatever kind in readiness for the resumption of labour. Different kinds of nets. Three kinds of nets were used by the Galilean fishermen. There was the δίκτυον , the most general name for any kind of net, and derived from δίκω , I cast, a word akin to δίσκος , a quoit. It is sometimes used figuratively in the LXX ., as παγίς is in the Pauline Epistle in the New Testament. Nets of this sort John and James were repairing when they were summoned by the Saviour. There was the ἀμφίβληστρον , from ἀμφί , around, and βαλλώ , I cast—the casting-net spreading out in a circle when cast into the water, and sinking by weights attached. From its circular shape it enclosed whatever lay below it. There was also the σαγήνη , from σάττω σέσαγα , I load, which was a sweep-net of wide reach, and included a wide extent of sea. Hence it is used, according to Trench, in a parable, "wherein our Lord is setting forth the wide reach and all-embracing character of his future kingdom," and where neither of the other two words would have suited as well or at all.

VI. READY AND UNRESERVED COMPLIANCE . No sooner had our Lord said, "Hither, after me," as the original words literally mean, than these four brethren, James and John, as well as Simon and Andrew, at once obeyed the summons. St. Mark's words here are very expressive—they went away or off behind him— and imply the completeness with which they separated themselves from previous connections and severed themselves from past pursuits, as also the entire devotion with which they joined their new Master and commenced their new calling. They do not seem to have entered into any worldly calculations as to their present maintenance or future prospects, or to have counted the cost of the sacrifice they were called to make; neither did they consult with flesh and blood, or take into account considerations such as carnal policy is apt to suggest. They left all at once and for ever. What if their boats and nets were comparatively of small value or little worth in the estimate of the rich? Still to these fishermen the sacrifice was great, for it involved their worldly all.

VII. THE GOODNESS OF THE MASTER . Hardly, if ever, does Christ give us a precept that he does not add a promise to encourage us to, and help us in, the performance. If he bids us come to him, however weary and worn, sad and suffering and sorrowful we may be, he promises to give us rest; if he bids us take his yoke upon us, he assures us it will be light; if he bids us seek, he promises we shall find; if he urges us to ask, he promises we shall receive; if he presses us to knock, he pledges his word that it shall be opened to us; and so of all the rest. Thus it is here, when he summons them to forsake their humble occupation of fishermen, he gives them the appropriate and characteristic promise to make them "fishers of men."

VIII. INSTRUCTIVE INCIDENT . True religion, instead of cutting the ties of kinship, as a rule consecrates them. Times of persecution, indeed, may separate us from the nearest relatives and dearest friends; for, unless we love Christ more than the nearest and dearest, we are unworthy of him. Still, such cases are exceptional. Here a beautiful circumstance is brought to our notice by St. Mark. John and James, when leaving their father Zebedee to follow their Master, were not forgetful of the claims of filial piety and natural affection. They did not leave their aged father helpless, but with "the hired servants." From this the obvious inference is 'that he would be still enabled to continue his ordinary business, and pursue his usual avocation as heretofore.

IX. INTERESTING INFERENCE . There is good reason to infer that, for his station in life, Zebedee was, as it is called, well to do. If not rich, he was not positively poor. He was in the happy mean which the wise man sought when he said, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." The boats and nets and hired servants bespeak the possession of at least a competence for one in his humble position yet honest walk in life.—J.J.G.

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