Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Why 'Fishers of Men'?: A Forgotten Old Testament Prophecy" (Post & Podcast on the Sunday Readings, 1/22/12

This Sunday Jesus calls the disciples to be "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). Where does this imagery come from? Here we look at the Old Testament prophecy that seems to provide the background.

Feel free to leave your comments below. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes or below in which we talk about this plus more on Jonah.

"Fishers of Men": Podcast on the Sunday Readings (1/22/12)

The New Exodus in Mark
Jesus' description of the apostles as "fishers of men" probably relates to hopes for the restoration of Israel. To do that, let's take a closer look at Mark 1.

Mark 1 opens by describing the "good news" ("Gospel", Gk. euangelion)
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. . . " (Mark 1:1-3).
Note: In the English translation here verses 1 and 2 are separated. However, as other scholars have noted, Mark seems to be suggesting that the "Gospel", the "good news" or "good tidings", was already proclaimed by Isaiah in Israel's scriptures.

In particular, Mark cites from Isaiah 40, which, speaks of a "way" in the "wilderness". Here we see clear New Exodus imagery. In fact, the word used for "way" in the Greek Old Testament is hodos, as in ex-hodos ("Exodus)".

What is even more noteworthy is that the passage itself contains the idea of "good tidings"--Isaiah announced the future proclamation of the "Gospel":
“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’ . . . 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings [Gk euangelizomenos]; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings [Gk euangelizomenos], lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”—Isaiah 40:1–5, 8
So Mark has opened his Gospel with an allusion to the New Exodus imagery of Isaiah. Indeed, as many have noted, New Exodus imagery runs throughout the book and his closely associated with the idea of "Gospel".

Fishers of Men

It may seem arbitrary that Jesus goes on to choose fishermen to be his disciples in the following verses. I would submit however that even here New Exodus imagery is in play.

The language here recalls Jeremiah 16. There the prophet describes the restoration of Israel. As God once delivered Israel from Egypt, now the Lord will deliver his people from all the nations to which they've been scattered.
"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land which I gave to their fathers. (Jeremiah 16:14-15).
The next verse describes how this will take place.
“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, says the Lord, and they shall catch them" (Jer 16:16).
It is through the apostles that Jesus, the true Son of David, will restore Israel. They are the "fishers" spoken of by Jeremiah. However, the disciples primary purpose is not to lead people back to the land, but leading people to Christ. In him, God's promises of restoration will be fulfilled.


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Nick said...

Reminds me of the parable of the wheat and weeds.

phatcatholic said...

Michael ... what exactly IS the Gospel message? According to Jimmy Akin's analysis of the instances of the word "gospel" in the NT (and of other theological terms of various proximity to the word "gospel"), he has come up with this definition:

"The gospel is the message that Jesus Christ died and rose for our sins so that we may be saved."

You can read his analysis here:

Is there a different or better way to define what the gospel message is? It's not that a disagree with Akin, I'm just curious to get input from other Catholic biblical scholars.