Theme: The new creation is up to us
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you call us all to ministry and we may even find a new ministry in the middle of the one we are doing; help see what enlivens us in living out your Word, the same Jesus Christ through whom we pray. Amen.
A little boy named Bobby entered his first science fair in second grade. Because his Mom had a “green thumb,” they decided to experiment with the growth of plants. Bobby took two small green plants and placed one on a sunny windowsill and the other in a cardboard box. After a couple of weeks, Bobby checked on the two plants. The one on the windowsill had grown a couple of inches and had vibrant green leaves. The one in the box had actually grown a bit, but it had lost all of its green color, becoming almost white and its leaves were drooping.
Thinking that the plant might die, Bobby cut a hole in one side of the box and set the box, with the plant inside, by the windowsill with the hole facing toward the incoming light. Over the course of a few weeks, the plant began to grow out through the hole, and after a couple of weeks later, the plant turned to grow up toward the light and even blossomed! The plant that had been seemingly stuck in gloomy darkness and was all but dead had seen a great light! And when that plant turned toward that light, it gained new life and began to blossom!
That story is a good example of what it means to have faith in God through Jesus Christ. The “world” would have us believe that all is gloomy. There are times when we go through periods of “darkness.” During those times it may seem like we will never get out of the darkness. Yet when we turn to “The Light,” Jesus calls us and draws us into the brilliance of hope and new life.
Okay, here is the sequence of events leading up to today’s gospel reading. Jesus is baptized, which we heard two weeks ago. He then goes out into the wilderness and is tempted, which we will hear on the First Sunday in Lent. So now Jesus is back from the wilderness and he learns that John the Baptist is in prison.
So it seems that these are the three things that catapult Jesus into beginning his ministry: he baptized for the remission of sins and receives the Holy Spirit to empower him in his ministry, he is tested to see if he has the “right stuff” in the wilderness, and he learns that John is out of commission, so that he can extend John’s ministry into his own.
To do all of this, Jesus goes home. He doesn’t stay long in Nazareth. He moves to Capernaum. Nazareth is in the hill country up from the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is unusual. People didn’t move around the country like we do. You’re born in a village and you died in the same village. Jesus’ move was counter-cultural.
Matthew also wants us to understand that this territory was once the territory of two of the tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali. The reason Jesus did this was to fulfill what Isaiah (in 9:1-2) said about the area being one of darkness, but they receive a great light. The Messiah lives among his people. The light of a star illuminated Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judah. Now Jesus represents the dawning light of a dark country and its residents are illuminated by it.
Jesus begins preaching. He takes up where John the Baptist left off. Jesus is extending John’s ministry. John is in prison. Jesus keeps his message alive.
The very first thing Jesus preaches is the exact same thing John the Baptist preaches, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew will use the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” often in his gospel. Bishop N. T. Wright notes that this isn’t about ways to get to heaven. They are about our “escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’” Jesus is talking about now in this life – not the next.
At some point after Jesus begins his ministry, he decides he can’t do it alone. Jesus needs help. If Jesus needs help, just imagine how much help I need! Imagine how much help you need!
Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee when he spots two brothers casting their nets into the lake. They are fishing from the shore. They are poor. They cannot afford a boat to fish in deeper waters. They are what most people were in Jesus’ day, subsistence workers. They get up each morning working for what they will eat that day. They will trade their catch for bread and wine or sell the catch and buy bread and wine.
Jesus asks them to follow him so that they may fish for people. The two brothers, Simon and Andrew left their nets (I assume that they didn’t think that they would need nets to fish for people) and they immediately followed Jesus! No hymning or hawing, no list of excuses why that wouldn’t fit their schedule, no reasons about how their families will or will not be supported, no phone calls to the wives, no let me think about this, no I can’t afford this, no excuses for a lack of time, they just left everything and followed Jesus. They left not even knowing what they will eat that evening. They had total trust in Jesus.
Now the three of them encounter two more brothers in the fishing business. James and John are mending their nets with their father. These brothers are much more affluent and successful than the first two – they have a boat! They can fish deeper waters. They have employees. Jesus calls the two brothers and not their father (maybe he was too old for this kind of stuff). They leave their father to finish mending the nets by himself and followed Jesus.
Again, no excuses no conflicts, and no hesitation – they just get up and go! That’s what Jesus must need – get up and go.
We are then told that Jesus travels the Galilee region teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom in synagogues, and curing every disease and every sickness among the Galileans. There were only two main towns on the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum and Tiberius. Tiberius is still inhabited. The lake population is sparse even today. The Galilee region is bigger with more towns, not that many towns, maybe a little smaller than Sacramento County.
It would take Jesus about two maybe three months to visit all the synagogues and heal everybody. Jesus could have repeated the circuit. We do know that he made side trips out of the region from time to time. But his ministry in Galilee wouldn’t have to be long.
We, too, have sat in darkness and we have seen a great light. When we incorporate this new light into our lives and through our behavior, then our society will be confronted with a new creation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the call to “follow me” is a call “to absolute discipleship,” and that only in surrendering ourselves to Jesus’ command could we, paradoxically, know our greatest joy.
After falling twice in the 1988 Olympic speed-skating races Dan Jansen sought out sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loeher, who helped him find a new balance between his sport and his life. He also helped Jansen learn to focus on the mental aspects of skating. Peter Mueller became his coach, putting him through workouts that Dan has since described as the "toughest I have ever known." By the time the 1994 Olympics arrived, Jansen had more confidence than ever. He had set a five-hundred-meter world record just two months earlier. The Olympic title in that event seemed to belong to him.
Unfortunately, Jansen fell during the five-hundred-meter race. He was disappointed and shaken. But, Dr. Loeher immediately advised him to start preparing for the one-thousand-meter race. He said, “The five-hundred-meter race is gone. Put it behind you.” However the thousand-meter race was Jansen's weakest event. But, there was no other chance for him to receive a medal. Jansen won the one-thousand-meter race and did it in record time. Since Jansen had followed the wisdom of his coach, he had put his failure behind him and tried something new.
We can play it safe and remain secure in what we know. Like the fishermen, our lives will remain in the darkness until we are willing to follow and move in a new direction. We are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus called the disciples to something that would not only give purpose and meaning to their lives, he called them to a vocation that would change the world. They followed, and from then on their lives would never be the same.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, may we answer your call, employing our gifts, bringing your light to world in need of your light and word; encourage us to bring your kingdom on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Matthew 4:12–23 (NRSV)
12 Now when Jesusa heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”b
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23 Jesusc went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good newsd of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.