Matthew 04:12-25 / 3 Epiphany A / 23 January 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, Jesus withdrew into Galilee. Mt 4:12
John is arrested, sequestered in Herod’s dungeon. The charge: He criticized the morals of the king. Herod had taken up with his brother’s estranged wife, and John called him on it. The greatest born of woman is arrested and treated like a common criminal. The one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah is off the scene. The voice calling in the wilderness is silenced. This is how it goes with the kingdom of heaven. It suffers violence and violent men lay hold of it. It is vulnerable and appears weak in this world. It always comes with a cross.
Jesus relocated from Nazareth to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. It’s the north country, despised by the Judeans in the south. They were the breakaway tribes, the secessionists, the ones without a lawful descendant of David on their throne. Half Gentile, half Israelite, not quite kosher or orthodox by southern standards, the north was always an object of derision in Jerusalem. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” was the cliche.
It’s not the location you or I would have chosen to start a movement much less a religion, but then we’re not in charge here. The kingdom of heaven is flipped upside down from the kingdoms of this world. It works bottom up rather than top down. The last are first. Those who walk in darkness get to see the dawning light first. It reminds us that God works by mercy not merit, and that Jesus’ mission is not simply to the salvageably religious of Israel, but the entire world, to Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised. And so Galilee is ground zero, and Capernaum, a little fishing village, is headquarters.
Isaiah foretold it centuries before. Nothing is accidental or incidental when it comes to Jesus. All of it happens “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet.” The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, despised, rejected, the first to fall, on them has light dawned. That’s the wonder of it – God’s kingdom falls upon the least and the lost and the little. What the world calls insignificant and irrelevant.
Jesus picks up where John had left off. Preaching repentance and the kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom was more “at hand” than ever. As near as Jesus. The kingdom of heaven had come to earth in the coming of Jesus, and this called for repentance. A new mind. A new way of thinking. At turning from self to Christ, from Sin to righteousness, from law and commandments to Gospel and gifts. God was doing something entirely new, and this new wine called for new wineskins. And so the call to turn, to repent.
That call of the kingdom hasn’t changed over the centuries. The message is the same. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The call goes out to us in our Baptism. Baptism works repentance, drowning the old, raising up the new. Turn from self to Christ, from your attempts to justify yourself to being justified by Christ, from your works to Christ’s works. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray. And the kingdom does come, when the Word of Christ reaches our ears and has its way with us and we believe it.
The kingdom lays claim. “Follow me.” Jesus calls four fishermen to discipleship with the simple words “follow me.” Peter, Andrew, James, John. They were partners in a fishing business with Zebedee. With a word Jesus calls them away from the nets and their boat. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Here is the beginning of apostolic ministry. These fishermen are not simply the first disciples, they are also the first apostles. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “I will make you fishers of men.” They used to catch fish in their nets. Now they would be sent to catch men for the kingdom in the net of Jesus’ death and resurrection, making disciples by baptizing and teaching in His name, with His authority, in His stead and by His command. That also explains the vocational change. Not everyone is called to leave their line of work to become a disciple of Jesus. Most didn’t. But these four did. They left their nets and their boat and Father Zebedee and began a new calling, a new vocation. This also explains leaving Father Zebedee behind with the boats. It’s not that he wasn’t saved. It’s only that Jesus didn’t select him to be one of his apostles.
This initiated their training – 3 years with Jesus, hearing His teaching and proclamation, seeing the wonders He did in healing every disease and affliction including those who were paralyzed and couldn’t walk. They would see Him through His cross and His resurrection. They would see Him disappear into the clouds in His ascension. And they would go forth to gather the church that confesses Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.
Did they know what they were getting into? How could they? They trusted Jesus. They took Him at His Word. And in that trust they left their livelihoods to join the band of disciples who one day would be apostles.
You may wonder if we are of any use to God and His kingdom. You may think you don’t have the skills, the aptitude, the personality. Remember, these were fishermen. One of the Twelve was a tax collector. Another was a political terrorist. The twelve apostles were the most unlikely band of men you could ever assemble. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they sat down to eat together. I seriously wonder if they always got along. And yet Jesus gathered them, taught them, and sent them as His emissaries into the world. Formerly they fished for fish. Now they would fish for men, catching men for the kingdom, dropping the dragnet of Jesus’ own sacrificial death and resurrection into the sea of this world and dragging whatever they caught into the church, yes, sometimes against their will. Correct that – always against their will. Have you ever met a fish that wanted to be caught?
It’s a funny thing about netting fish, and I have some experience at it having kept fish tanks most of my life. The best way to catch a fish with a net is from below. They have a blind spot below themselves. From above, forget it. And it won’t do to chase them from behind, as most people do. Fish can see behind as well as they can see in front. You can put a net in front of them and scare them into the net, but the best way is from below. They never see it coming.
I think that’s a good parable for how Jesus and His kingdom operate. He sneaks up from below, where you least expect Him. We would expect God to come down from above, to make a heavenly show of it. Whenever we look to God, we tend to look up. And if God were to chase us, we’d high tail it like a startled deer. Can you imagine being chased by God? Adam was left hiding in the bushes; we’d do the same thing.
God sneaks up on us from below. The baby in the manger. The boy in the temple. The carpenter of Nazareth. The teacher in Capernaum. Galilee of the Gentiles. The kingdom begins small, like a mustard seed, and grows to embrace the whole cosmos with the net of Jesus’ death and life.
When you hear of Jesus’ call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John and you hear Jesus say “I will make you fishers of men,” don’t think of yourselves as fishers of men. Think of yourselves as fish. Jesus isn’t necessarily calling you to change vocations in order to serve Him. Father Zebedee was just fine tending to the fishing business, but Jesus needed the boys for other purposes. There were plenty of tax collectors in Israel, but Jesus needed Matthew to collect disciples instead of taxes.
You are fish caught in Jesus’ apostolic net. You are baptized with a Baptism Jesus put into the hands of His apostles with the promise that He would be with them in this baptizing. He put HIs teaching into the hands of His apostles and commanded them to teach everything they had learned from Him.
You are fish. Fish caught in a net are as good as dead. In order to live, they must escape the net. But not this net. This net that has captured you will drag you to the shore and raise you to life on the Last Day. This is a rescue net, before the sea become a lake of fire and destroys you. This is a net cast far and wide to save you from your sin, your death and anything that would harm or destroy you.
He sneaks up on us from below in the lowliest forms – baptismal water, Lord’s Supper bread and wine. Talk about lowly, humble, easily ignored or despised. How many do you know look for a good show when it comes to religion? How many do you know who are hooked on miracles or displays of power? They ask you, “What goes on in church?” You tell them we hear the Word and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. They say, “Huh? And scratch their heads.”
The highest, holiest, most heavenly things are buried deeply in humility, in suffering, in rejection. Galilee. The last place on earth you’d use as a headquarters. The last place on earth you’d look for God to come in the flesh to save. Thank God, He did.
In the name of Jesus,