Take This Job and Shove It (Mark 1:14-20)

I am not a fan of “new” country music.  It seems to be more like cheesy rock music heavily focused on trucks, beer consumption, summertime water sports, and how hot your woman is.  Some people refer to it as “bro” country.  I think this is because you your “bros” listen to the music together.  As I have no “bros”, I don’t know for sure.

I prefer the older music of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and George Jones.  I like the songs that plumbed the existential depths of human misery.  You know the ones; where job loss, adultery, trailer devastation, divorce, and death were the backbone of every country song.  Listening to Conway Twitty prepared me for Albert Camus in ways Jean Paul Sartre never could.

Among these older country artists is Donald Eugene Lytle.  You might know him better as John Paycheck.  He was the ultimate working man’s balladeer.  He did prison time for shooting man in a bar.  Paycheck was the real deal.  He played with Willie Nelson and George Jones.  His biggest hit was a song called, “Take This Job and Shove It” (written by David Alan Coe).  Here’s how it goes:

Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more
My woman done left and took all the reasons
I was working for
You better not try to stand in my way
‘Cause I’m walkin’ out the door
Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more

I been workin’ in this factory
For nigh on fifteen years
All this time I watched my woman
Drownin’ in a pool of tears
And I’ve seen a lot of good folks die
That had a lot of bills to pay
I’d give the shirt right offa’ my back
If I had the guts to say

Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more.

I tell you the story of Johnny Paycheck and his song because I picture him, a hard working guy, an old country listening guy, working on his fishing boat, when I picture the story of Jesus calling his first disciples.  When I read about the speed and decision the disciples walked away from their lives as fisherman, I can’t help but hear a bit of Johnny Paycheck singing in the background, “Take this job and shove it, I ain’t working here no more.”  Whatever Jesus was offering, wherever he was going was better than what they were doing at that moment.  Here’s what we forget:  they didn’t know what Jesus was offering.  Their understanding was as limited as it could be.  These first disciples hadn’t inherited 2000 years of church tradition to way and consider as they deicide, do I have time to volunteer for an hour here or there?  With next to no information, they gave their lives.

The uncertainty of tomorrow with Jesus was better than the routine of today.  That’s the decision the disciples made.  I’m sure Mark leaves a little between the lines to be read.  Blank stares, gossip, conversations held to the side; (they must be crazy, who is this guy, where do they think they’re going, how are we going to run a family business if they’re running around the country side playing rabbi and disciple) I’m sure all of those things happened.  Yet none of those objections mattered, swayed, or stopped what Jesus’ words set into motion.  Remember, this is Mark’s message:  the kingdom of God is here and now.

Most of them, certainly Jesus, knew one fact about the present.  John had been arrested.  With the man who started the “Kingdom of God is now” message having been arrested, should you be quitting your job?  Walking away from your livelihood has an economic impact on your family but arrest in this day and time isn’t like you can post bail and come home until the DA works out a plea agreement.  Arrest, in the 1st century, probably means death.  Death permanently inhibits your earning potential.  It’s one thing to risk money to follow Jesus.  It’s another to risk EVERYTHING to follow Jesus.  Each time I read this story, my admiration for those who drop everything to go with Jesus grows.  Is it impetuous, yes!  Are any of us living up to that standard, no!  Is there a middle ground between where we are now and what we read that we could grow into?  Yes!  This is the Good News of this story.  We get to follow and we get to be followed.  We can follow Jesus and we can embody Jesus.

How does Jesus fish? There are two styles of fishing in this passage.  Net fishing, the most common method used on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus’ brand of people fishing.  Net fishing and people fishing are two different methods.  Often the church confuses the two.  We, the church, forget what we’re doing and imagine that our role is to catch or ensnare people into our programs, activities, and churchliness.  This is not what Jesus does.  Jesus does not capture anyone so they may be left to die of asphyxiation of deck.  When we fish, it’s about taking life.  When Jesus fishes, it’s about giving and enhancing life.  Nothing has to die by saying yes to Jesus.   Maybe some bad habits and misplaced priorities get tossed overboard, but at its essence, when Jesus talks about fishing for people, it is a life giving exercise.

For Jesus, fishing for people means connecting with people where they live.  In traditional fishing, we bring the fish to us, in the boat.  Jesus goes to the fish, the person, wherever they are.  He doesn’t wait for them to take the “bait” or jump into net.  Remember the church wasn’t built in bulk, groups of one or two meeting groups of two or three.  You don’t need bait, a net or other ways to capture people if you’ve got a relationship.  When Jesus fishes he is building relationships; person to person, one person at a time.  He does this by looking, listening, and inviting.

Why would Simon Peter and Andrew be good people to talk to?  Jesus had asked that question.  With whom would his message of the kingdom of God most easily relate?  He sees the fisherman as people eager for change.  Caught in the middle between Roman laws, middle men who don’t pay enough for their fish, and a religious system that marginalizes their participation; Jesus looks for people the rest of the world has ignored.

Jesus goes to the ignored then he asks, “What’s on your mind?” “Would you like to be part of something bigger than yourself?”  Listening and interaction form the basis of any Good News relationship.   Jesus wants to bring out the best part of the disciples.  They are fishermen.  How can he use some of the skills they already bring to the table in order to help them become the best “kingdom” versions of themselves?  This is why Jesus is listening.  He doesn’t want Simon Peter, Andrew, James, or John to try and fit their round pegs into some square hole called Christian discipleship.  Jesus doesn’t want them to check the best part of their identity at the door.  So often, the church does it the other way around.  We create rigid religious models and tell people you have to fit into our ideal or you can’t be a Christian.  That’s not how Jesus operates.

Jesus listens, interacts, and responds to the needs at hand.  This is how kingdom relationships grow.  Fishing for people is inherently flexible.  Look how malleable the disciples were with their lives.  Being a Christian demands a degree of give and take that we seem to have forgotten, especially when it comes to sharing the immediacy of the kingdom of God.

As disciples, full-fledged members of the body of Christ, we’re also called to be flexible, relationship builders, listeners, who go to the fish and not people waiting in the boat expecting the fish to jump in.  We’re called to look for the hurting, those not benefiting from a soaring stock market, left behind by organized religion, and forgotten by their families.  Start looking for the people who are saying, “take this job and shove it.”  Those are the people Jesus called.  In 2018, we’re too afraid to acknowledge how much we need them too.

Richard Lowell Bryant