God has spoken once, twice have I heard it,
that power belongs to God.
Steadfast love is yours, O Lord,
for you repay everyone according to his deeds.
Psalm 62: 6,7; 13,14
Yesterday's psalm has long been one of my favorites, especially how the psalmist weaves together his description of God in those last verses: strong, loving and just. God as strong and loving are themes with which we resonate. But the justice of God can give people pause, evoking images of the accountant God, pouring over a ledger as he makes sure that nothing is missed, nothing overlooked, morphing then into the stern judge whose pounding gavel seals a verdict, and finally becoming the dark, implacable executioner, deaf to cries of mercy.
It's for those reasons that the story of Jonah is especially helpful. Not the part about the whale, or "big fish," which is what evoking the prophet's name first brings to mind, but the reason that Jonah didn't want to carry out God's bidding in the first place. It would have been easy for Jonah if God just wanted to use his voice as a warning siren, after all, this city had sent out armies that had laid waste the countryside of Israel, raping and pillaging without conscience. A blitzrieg might be too kind. But Jonah had a sneaking suspicion, which was proved right, that God didn't really repay everyone according to his deeds. That his steadfast love and mercy actually trumped justice. And that's why he balked.
After going through Nineveh and preaching repentance to its inhabitants, the people of Nineveh believed God; "they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it." (Jonah 3:10)
This is the character of the king whose kingdom Jesus comes to announce as Mark portrays him walking into Galilee. It's God's way of doing business: committed to truth-telling (this is what you have done, and deserve) but deeply committed to love (I'd rather forgive) and empowerment (let me help you live in a better way) that Jesus wants people to embrace. And so he begins his stump speech: "The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15)
Not only is this a new way of thinking (one of the ways you can interpret the word "repent"), but Jesus is going to need some help getting his message out, which is where the recruiting piece comes in. Follow me, Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, busy with the morning catch. God is doing something new and there's only one way to find it. I'll show you what I mean, and then you can be part of my endeavor to draw people into this new reality. You're good at trawling for fish, but once you catch what I'm talking about, you're going to want to gather all sorts of folks into this way of life.
Responding to Jesus' invitation for those first disciples meant a radical shift in occupation. That's not always true for those of us who accept citizenship in this new kingdom; after all, we still need food, and fish has plenty of omega 3. No, the difference may not be in what we do, but why and how we do it: empowered by the Spirit of God; living truthfully and aware of the consequences (both good and bad) of our actions; and motivated by a love that just won't stop. Can it really happen? Yes, says Jesus. Believe it, and come along.