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Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy

Third Sunday before Advent

Mark 1. 14-20 "Fishermen Join the Team "

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together:

Recall an occasion when you were invited to join a team. Did it have any impact on you? Did you realise the importance at the time or did it only become significant later? Was it an easy decision to make? Did you turn to anyone for advice?

A Window on the Text

This looks like the very beginning of Jesus' ministry: John the Baptist had just been arrested; Jesus was back from his time in the wilderness. Starting a new task, he was building his team. Interestingly he began with fishermen, not carpenters. Both were skilled trades but there were many more fishermen – fish was part of the staple diet. The Sea of Galilee was a rich source for the surrounding area, and for export to Rome as well. It was big business catching and selling fish; much was dried or salted, too, to preserve it.

Those who fished had a wide network of contacts in nearby towns and cities, and the Galileans were widely known all over the region; they dealt with merchants who spoke Hebrew, Greek or even Latin, not just the local Aramaic. It was big too with the Roman government, selling rights to catch fish through local businessmen. Men like Zebedee were probably among the better-off fishermen who owned their boats, but many were just day labourers.

It was not just a time of decision for these four. Did Jesus, in selecting his team, work out in advance the type of people he needed to join him for his ministry? This seems likely. The experience of earning a living from catching and selling fish does not at first sight seem directly relevant, until you realise the need for willingness to learn, to take risks and to experiment, to deal with other people and to sell. People from a normal background? Certainly. People with special skills? Well, what do you think?

We have no way of knowing whether Jesus' call was expected, or sudden. He may have discussed it with them earlier, but the narrative in this and other accounts uses the words ‘suddenly’, ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’ to describe the way they left their work. It was a decisive moment for them, whether on impulse or something they had been considering for weeks or months. They were giving up their way of life and the family business.
Responding as a community
  1. Think about the decisions you have to take, both individually and as a community. How do you prepare yourselves, and others, for these?

  2. If you are selecting people to work with you as part of a team, how do you go about it?

  3. What words would you use to tell someone that the kingdom of God was near? In answering this question think about ‘culture’ as an alternative word for kingdom. The text would then read: "The time is fulfilled, and the culture of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." What are the differences between God's culture and human cultures? What does it mean to be disciples of the one who brings God's culture near to us, and why is this good news?
Praying Together
  • Place some significant decisions in your lives and write them on a piece of paper then place them on a table in the centre of the circle, they can either be from the past or any that must be taken soon.

  • Share your fears and concerns in prayer.
Going Deeper
  1. For more information about the place of fishing and fishermen at the time of Jesus see the ‘Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition’ by K. C Hanson at

  2. R. T. France in The Gospel of Mark (page 96) point out that Jesus' call is closer to the model of Elijah calling of Elisha (1 Ki. 19:9-21). He says that: "Rabbis did not call their followers; rather, the pupil adopted the teacher. Jesus' peremptory summons, with its expectation of radical renunciation even of family ties, goes far beyond anything they would be familiar with in normal society. It marks him as a prophet rather than a rabbi.’

  3. Ched Myers, in his commentary ‘Binding the Strong Man’, says that the words in Jesus’ invitation to follow him about making them into ‘fishers of men’ is frequently misunderstood (1v17). He says, ‘This metaphor, despite the grand old tradition of missionary interpretation, does not refer to the "saving of souls," as if Jesus were conferring upon these men instant evangelist status. Rather, the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh's censure of Israel. Elsewhere the "hooking of fish" is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Am 4:2) and powerful (Ez 29:4). Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege....The point here is that following Jesus requires not just assent of the heart, but a fundamental reordering of socio-economic relationships. The first step in dismantling the dominant social order is to overturn the "world" of the disciple: in the kingdom, the personal and the political are one.... This is not a call "out" of the world, but into an alternative social practice.’ (pages 132-133)

Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion

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