January 21, 2018
Mark 1: 14-20
Mark’s gospel has a characteristic way of communicating the intensity of the good news. Over and over, the writer tells us that the action happens “immediately.” The first chapter of Mark starts in just this way. The action is urgent and occurs immediately. Jesus has been in the wilderness when the arrest of John jolts him into action. He goes to the Sea of Galilee and begins to gather his closest followers. Jesus sees Simon and Andrew and calls them. They act “immediately,” leaving their nets and following. James and John, the Zebedee brothers, are next. Jesus finds them thoroughly involved in the routine of daily life. This time it is Jesus who acts urgently, “immediately” calling them. Their father still stood in the boat as they left the family business and followed Jesus. And then, the group is off to Capernaum where Jesus teaches and heals with the authority that he himself embodies the good news that he also has been sent to proclaim.
In looking at this text through the lens of disaster, displacement and poverty, the urgency and intensity of these situations correspond with the “immediate” tone of Mark’s expression. Jesus embodies the good news now. Jesus seeks followers now.
Small holder farmers in Nicaragua are in such a situation of urgency. They struggle to grow crops to sustain their families and communities, thwarted by climate change that produces drought and then floods and then drought again. The action of the Nicaraguan group, Acción Medicá Cristiana, addresses this urgent situation. Farmers share innovative nutritional practices and protect natural resources with a risk management approach. The result is improved nutrition for 1300 participants in 17 communities, access to health services, improved dietary diversity, improved household incomes from the sales of agricultural products, and reduced incidents of gender based violence. It is an embodiment of the good news Jesus came to live and proclaim.
Similarly, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported on January 9th that 2017 was the costliest weather year on record, contributing to 16 billion-plus dollar disasters in the United States. Not only do people need immediate assistance when natural disaster hits, but the long term impact is even greater and easily forgotten. The need for communities to rebuild and for the equitable distribution of post disaster resources creates intensity to the recovery that is long term and deep rooted.
Refugees and internally displaced people are, by definition, impacted by urgent and immediate need. Unable to return home because of violence or persecution, forcibly displaced people face immediate challenges just to survive, let alone to thrive. The world is called to pay attention immediately, and to create space for safety and a system for people to experience hope and rebuild lives.
As told in Mark 1, the Zebedee brothers and Simon and Andrew immediately changed their lives in light of the urgency of Jesus’ call. They did not, however, abandon who they were. They continued to use their people skills and their business acumen and their ability to work with their hands and journey with their feet. They used those skills now for a different purpose than just themselves and their family. Mark expresses it as fishing for people. This change enables them to join Jesus in the immediacy of his mission. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1: 15) So, too, the urgency and intensity of people impacted by disaster, displacement and poverty call us to be jolted into action immediately in order to embody the good news that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
Reflections by: Rev. Dr. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, UCC national setting Team Leader, UCC Humanitarian and Development Ministries (One Great Hour of Sharing) in disaster, refugee, development and volunteer ministries.