EPIPHANY III - A - 17 MATTHEW 4. 12-23
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” Jesus was born in Bethlehem and spent his toddler years in Egypt. After the Holy Family returned to Israel, he grew up in Nazareth. Upon hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus leaves his boyhood home and moves to Capernaum by the sea in the region of Galilee.
Capernaum is a cross-roads town on the North/South trade route. It is also a commercial fishing port. Matthew is the local tax collector. Simon, Andrew, James and John are local fishermen. The region contains a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, cultures and religions. It was very much a cosmopolitan city and not considered particularly Jewish by the Jews of Judea.
Matthew tells us that Christ began his ministry here by repeating John the Baptist’s call to repent. The word in Greek literally means to change one’s mind, or more generally to turn around. Repentance is a radical change of one’s spirit, mind, thought, and heart, a complete reorientation of one’s whole life. It wasn’t his call to repentance, however, that drew people to him, but his power to heal.
The news of John’s arrest comes to Jesus just as he has ended a 40 day preparation for his earthly ministry. He had been in the desert where he prayed and fasted and was tempted by Satan to surrender his humanity in favor of his divinity; an act that would have derailed his God-given mission altogether. Thankfully for our sake he refused.
Now he has come out of the desert much as John Baptist had done, preaching the same message, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The whole of Jesus’ ministry is in a sense a sign that in his person and work the reign of God has drawn near. Matthew sees in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Surely there were those in Galilee who had heard John preach and speak of the one who would come after him; the Promised One of God. Perhaps even Simon and Andrew, James and John had heard him and were prepared to accept Christ immediately.
At best these newly minted disciples were nominally religious, illiterate and unlearned in terms of their religion, even unworthy by the religious standards of the day, but after Pentecost would be deemed the wisest of all.
For now, they left everything and followed alongside Christ as he taught in their synagogues and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom. They were amazed as they witnessed Jesus’ power to heal and cure every disease and sickness among the people.
They had no idea where their following him would lead, or what the cost of discipleship would be for each of them. What they knew in their hearts, what God had revealed to them, was this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long awaited Messiah, the Promised One of God and they wanted to be with him.
As the prophet Isaiah said, “a great light has shined on them,” and there was no going back. It was the dawn of a new hope. Their old way of life, their daily routines, and their old identities were no more.
How our lives are routine. What we do day in and day out defines us. It locates us, provides a sense of security, shapes our identity. We are identified by what we do. Believe me I know. When I step into a crowded elevator at the hospital wearing a black suit and a clerical collar, there is no doubt in the passengers mind who I am and what I do.
It is interesting how power, the power of expectation, weaves its way through daily routine. We find security through work and play, but we buy into some authority or other defining our lives. We find that instead of shaping our own identity, we are being shaped by outside influences, whether it be political, social, or religious. We get caught in our own nets.
Into our world Jesus comes. “Follow me,” he announces, calling us by name. Jesus summons us to leave our “nets” behind. His call demands a response. The four men he called in today’s gospel did just that, they left their nets behind, their daily routines and their old way of life.
Jesus’ “follow me” is our invitation to do as the disciples did and drop everything and go with him. We all received the same invitation at our baptisms. Jesus walks into our world and calls us out of it. He invites us to be his disciples. But there is a cost involved.
The way of Christ, is the way of the cross. The invitation is to share in the work of Christ, to allow His light to shine forth through us to illumine hearts and minds; to show forth God’s dominion. In Him we have a new identity and we are identified by what we say and do. We are a new creation. The old identity no longer sticks.
The call to follow Jesus is a continuous call. We won’t always know where it is all going to lead, and we wouldn’t perhaps be quite so eager if we did. Certainly Simon and Andrew, James and John had no idea their following Jesus would lead them to martyrdom. Jesus promised them glory. Their life with Jesus was anything but routine.
But that is where Faith comes in. With each step that we take on the path that God has chosen for us to walk, He, in his mercy will reveal things little by little. These four men saw neither the glory or the pain that following Jesus would bring to each of them. They only saw him, and that was enough to cause them to leave their nets behind.
In Him all the treasures of glory and pain are hidden, as St. Paul would say. That is what the gospel is all about. And we who choose to follow Him today, and leave our “nets” behind can expect that our life with Christ will be anything but routine.
For the way of Christ is the way of the cross; “foolishness to those who are perishing,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” AMEN+