Making Galilee Great Again: Sermon for January 21, 2024

Olivier Dunrea, a painter and sculptor, is the creator of beautiful and well-loved children’s books, the Gossie & Friends series. In his book Gossie & Gertie[1], the two goslings are portrayed as best friends. Gossie wears bright red boots, and Gertie wears bright blue boots. The two goslings play and eat together, splash in the rain, hide and seek, jump, and sleep. Everywhere Gossie goes, Gertie goes too. Gossie calls Gertie to follow her —marching to the barn, sneaking to the sheep, playing in the hay, and Gertie follows. Until one time, Gossie says, “Follow me” – and rather than turn and follow, Gertie jumps in a mud puddle instead, then chases a frog and next a butterfly.… Page by page, Gertie continues pursuing her way until she sees a tiny seed trail on the ground. Gertie then turns around to Gossie, who is blue in the face from screaming “Follow me!” for the last 10 minutes – and says, “Follow me, Gossie, it’s time for dinner.” With a page turn, they are together again, their heads side by side in the bowl, happily filling their bellies with grain.

Come, Follow Me is sometimes about love and friendship, but it is always about being truly fed.


Mark’s discipleship tutorial also calls us to read between the lines. Jesus’ call “To follow” was not an invitation to consider but an imperative upon which to act when called. Follow me was followed by immediacy, without deliberation or hesitancy, an instinct, a reflex, an unexamined knee-jerk response to the call, the call to come, to follow without question. And preceding it was a mandate to repent. It has often been noted that Mark’s favorite adverb is “immediately.”[2]

Jesus wasn’t playing games. If you remember, Mark’s gospel begins with the proclamation of the Good News, which is Jesus the Messiah. Mark will use the following chapters to support this claim— illustrating Jesus’ miraculous works, healing the sick, and feeding 5,000 with a small child’s lunch. Mark doesn’t always include the gray areas in his writing, as the primary focus of his gospel is to present Jesus, the prophet, as the Son of God.

Since I live in the gray areas, this text doesn’t always sit well with me. It might surprise you, but I have never been a follower myself and spent much of my younger years like Gertie, jumping in mud puddles to discover which were filled with frogs and which the frogs dared not even swim. Following without scrutinizing the path would not have been my response, leading me to jump in with the frogs, asking what was happening here.

This text comes laced with a cautionary tale in its sub-text as it offers little insight into the culture out of which these fisherman dropped their nets and their livelihood and came dutifully running after this man/ called teacher when we called out to them. The caution here is not about extra-biblical material or about the legitimacy of the call to follow Jesus, but about the historical/ socio-political and cultural undertones that unwrite this story and our inherent biases, shaped predominately by a white/patriarchal context that impacts our hearing/reading of the word. This influences how we hear the call to follow Jesus and do or do not respond accordingly in our daily lives. The way we receive and respond to the biblical text is not dissimilar to how we hear the current news cycle pumping across every channel today and either choosing to wear our red boots happily playing to the status quo or to put on our blue boots and jump in the puddles looking for frogs.

In blue boot fashion, we look to mark scholar & historian Ched Meyers, who gives us a look into the year 14 C.E. “Caesar Augustus died and Tiberius became ruler of Rome. To curry the new Emperor’s favor, Herod Antipas (the client-king Tetrarch of Galilee) began building a new capital city called Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The primary function of this militarized city was to regulate the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee, putting it firmly under the control of Roman interests. We know that the fishing industry was being steadily restructured for export at this time. All fishing had become state-regulated for the benefit of the urban elite.

They profited from the fishing industry in two ways. First, they controlled the sale of fishing leases, without which locals could not fish. Second, they taxed the fish product and its processing and levied tolls on product transport.

This transformation of the local economy, functioned to marginalize and impoverish formerly self-sufficient native fishing families- such as law-abiding migrant workers. Leases, taxes, and tolls were exorbitant, while the fish upon which local people depended as a dietary staple was extracted for export. Thus, fishermen were falling to the bottom of an increasingly elaborate economic hierarchy. Elites looked down on them, even as they depended upon their labor: “The most shameful occupations are those which cater to our sensual pleasures,” wrote the Roman poet Cicero pejoratively, “fish-sellers, butchers, cooks, poultry-raisers and fishermen” (Hanson:99). “The fisher,” attests an ancient Egyptian papyrus, “is more miserable than any other profession.”[3]

The backdrop of these seven verses in Mark includes a window into the sub-text, a world of Herod “Making Galilee great again…”, building wall after wall around the city- (ring a bell?) the kind of socio-political landscape that would render even the most comfortable commoner less than settled or secure in their station, let alone those outside of Roman citizenry. The thought that another way existed, that fleeing the scene could be honorable or noble? For these men, “follow me” might have sounded like a 1-way ticket out!

Jesus’ call “Follow Me” brought an opportunity for these fishermen, who were narrowly finding space in the growing economy of Galilee, to exist. In his calling, Jesus was creating a space for socio-economic change, upward mobility, and a middle class or lower class to gain viable capital rather than be squeezed into the pulp of the Emperor’s next mimosa. Just as Mark so emphatically presents Jesus as Messiah on the pages of this gospel, perhaps Jesus’s subversive yet intentional selection of these disciples was just as deliberate. Mark records that Jesus personally invites the disciples to join him in his ministry.

So often, we hear these texts and over-sensationalize what it must have been like to hear Jesus calling out, waving royally as he walked by the sea. The four beautifully tanned, sparkling in the sunlight, olive-skinned fishermen saw him, and peeling off their half-buttoned, organic, cotton tunics, they dove into the sea and emerged like the Aussie shampoo bottle commercial dark hair dripping wet down their faces, barefoot and gorgeous they follow Jesus into the sunset. Okay, maybe that was just me.

But we often fail to place these experiences in the heat of the day, fresh with the stench of an overnight fishing excursion bc for most of our history, fisherman fished at night due to the fabric of their nets. If they had fished during the day, the nets would have sat empty as fish could “see” the large strands of hemp and other natural fibers drifting through the waters— it wasn’t until materials like nylon were invented that fishing yielded prosperity for the industry.

Another puddle to jump in this morning in search of frogs involves another disciple and perhaps the many who would come after her.

For James, John, Peter, and Andrew, the call to follow me Brought a real possibility. But when the call to follow flies in the face of what is permissible within a patriarchal culture, describing “disciple as one who looks, speaks and sounds nothing like you” is problematic. For a woman, following was not so easy as publicly dropping your nets. We hear little about Mary in the gospels, but her role as an iconic biblical figure parallels none.

To mine the biblical narrative for modern interpretive significance, we must ask, “Who is not reflected here?”

You see, the Lake at Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias was also home to Miryam of Migdala, also called Mary Magdalene, the woman of whom Jesus was very fond- yet Mark is silent on the details of her call story, only mentioning her in the 15th chapter, at Jesus’ crucifixion. Then again at his tomb-as, she went dutifully to anoint his body. What might it have meant for Mary to hear these words, “Come, follow me,” from a respected Rabbi in this occupied city? We don’t know what happened between Jesus and Mary, but we know there is a relationship that is fostered and that has Mary running to his side at the 9th hour.

Luke’s gospel is the only one that states after Jesus cast out seven demons from her, Mary became part of a group of women who traveled with him and his 12 disciples/apostles, “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.”[4]

What would it have meant for Mary to hear those words, “Come, follow me?” What would it have meant for every Mary who followed after her to read those words in holy scripture—?

She was present at the tomb, the first person to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection and the first to preach the “Good News” of that miracle.”

Who is she? We ask? She is much more to the story of Christianity than what her absence declares. Mark’s intentional ignorance of Mary as a Galilean follower, called by Jesus the Messiah, indicates the historical context in which he wrote or orally shared the account of Jesus’ life. The exclusion of Mary Magdalene against the backdrop of Galilean disciples is akin to a world where we pretend that men and women are afforded equitable opportunity at the highest levels of civic and private life.

How many of you watch the Golden Globes? I don’t usually watch them, but I did in 2018 as I was inspired by the #metoo and #TimesUp campaigns. The Time’s Up movement was founded on January 1, 2018, by more than 300 Hollywood celebrities; its goal was to protect working-class women from becoming victims of sexual misconduct. The campaign was a unified call for change from women in entertainment to women everywhere. From movie sets to farm fields to boardrooms alike, these women envision nationwide leadership that reflects the world in which we live.[5]

The awards ceremony was inspiring-yes, but also tremendously disappointing—As many men stood up and received their applause and shiny trophies without a word or nod to the truth of these women’s testimonies and experiences. Other men, including some of you here today— on the other hand, are part of why the movement sparked by Tarana Burke over 20 years ago, #metoo, has gained power, making “follow me” one step closer to reality for women everywhere. With the overturning of Roe, we are thrust again into the world of Making Galilee Great Again. Where the care of women’s bodies, like the fishing industry, is being levied, taxed, commodified, and exploited to serve the needs of power and greed.

Church, None of these experiences, of these Galilean fishermen, a silenced and mysterious Mary Magdalene, of privileged Hollywood actresses, of Tarana Burke speaks to the breadth of our human experiences. Still, through their stories, your stories, and mine, we can imagine what we are being called to respond to in Jesus’ invitation to follow.

Whether “follow me” for you means fleeing a traumatic or simply unfulfilling life situation or it means leaving behind a false sense of security, a world of pretense and pretend, or rising to the power that exists with each created soul, the truth is that following the path of radical love, of HOPE, of grace, of Joy, of forgiveness, is the only REAL way to make this life great. For there to be any power in this truth, ALL of us need to be included; all of us need to be reflected in the call. At the last women’s march I attended, inspired by the crowd gathered on Halifax Mall, Dr. Michelle Laws said, “You either stand on the side of women, or you stand in our way.” Friends, we either stand on the side of justice for women, persons of color, LGBTQ, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims, or we stand in the way. Let’s not stand in the way; let’s follow Jesus and help make a way. May it be so. Amen


[2] Croy, N. C. (2020, November 11). Commentary on Mark 14:1-15:47. Working Preacher from Luther Seminary.

[3] RadicalDiscipleship. (2015, January 26). Let’s Catch Some Big Fish!” JesusCall to Discipleship in a World of Injustice. Radical Discipleship.

[4] A&E Television Networks. (n.d.). How Early Church Leaders Downplayed Mary Magdalene’s Influence.

[5] Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, January 22). Time’s Up (organization). Wikipedia. Time%27s_Up_