When Jesus heard John had been arrested,
we read, he withdrew to Galilee.
So, a couple of things.
And by a couple I mean three!
First, the word translated here as “arrested,”
is elsewhere translated as “handed over,”
“betrayed,” “delivered up.”
It’s the same word used
for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
There is, in other words, according to Matthew,
a consistency, of response
to the prophets of God, the word of God, the presence of God.
It is betrayed.
Second, the word “withdrew” is used
ten other times in this gospel “almost exclusively
for Jesus’ response to threats”
(M. Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew:
Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections
in The New Interpreter’s Bible:
A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Volume VIII
[Nashville: Abingdon, 1995] 167).
So did Jesus run from trouble?
Was he afraid?
Was it a strategic retreat in the face of greater power—
or, rather, power more willing to use violence?
So was it some fully considered tactics of non-violence?
A careful weaving together of confrontation and avoidance
that would end, we already surmise, in betrayal.
Third and finally, if he withdrew to Galilee
then he hadn’t been there, right?
So had been, maybe in the wilderness along the Jordan.
Maybe been with John.
Maybe even been down in Judah.
And so he retreated (he withdrew) north—
from the center of everything—
the political center, the theological center—
the middle of it all,
withdrawing to the periphery of it all,
suggesting to those who read this gospel with faith,
that what was presumed to be the center of it all,
Now, once back in Galilee,
from Nazareth to Capernaum—
which is to say he moved out—
out of the family home—
away from Mom and Dad.
He established himself.
For what authority does a prophet have
who still lives with Mom?
Now in doing all that, did Jesus act to fulfill prophecy?
Did he do all that intentionally
so that what had been spoken
through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled?
“Let’s see. Let me check my scroll here.
Oh, okay. Now I’ve got to move to Capernaum.”
That’s kind of what it sounds like, right?
I don’t think that’s what Matthew intended.
He probably meant not so much
that Jesus acted in order to fulfill,
as that Jesus simply and naturally,
fulfilled in being and acting.
I tend to think that who Jesus was
and the way Jesus acted,
made people think of God—
made people think of Scripture
and the fulfillment of prophecy.
Subtle differences. But important, I think.
I’d also like to make a couple of observations
about this Old Testament scripture Matthew quotes
(and by couple, I mean six).
This is so important to Matthew—
this idea of fulfillment in Jesus.
We heard the Isaiah and the Matthew passages read together,
so maybe you noticed
that and how Matthew made some changes?
Galilee of the nations became Galilee of the Gentiles—
suggesting here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry,
the trajectory of Jesus’ ministry
away from the center that has been
beginning, as it does, here in Galilee,
and ending here in Galilee too—
remember at the end of the Gospel,
after the resurrection,
the angel sends the disciples back to Galilee (Matthew 28:7)
where Jesus says to them,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Nice symmetry to beginning and end, don’t you think?
Pointing beyond what has been.
“The people who walked in darkness and saw a great light”
became “the people who sat in darkness and saw the great light.”
As if the darkness is too utterly oppressive to stand,
much less walk!
“Those who lived in a land of deep darkness”
became “those who sat in the region and shadow of death”—
darkness becoming death—a kind of dying.
“On them light has shined”
becomes “on them light has dawned.”
It’s a new rising.
So obviously it’s okay to change scripture to suit your need!
The New Testament began with more of a celebration
of the Jewish custom of midrash—of retelling the stories
with new perspectives, new endings, new twists—
the New Testament began with more of a celebration
of midrash than the church has maintained!
I think that’s great news!
Because, more importantly—
most importantly for Matthew,
we see Jesus obviously acted and related and taught
in ways that made people think of those
who sat in the darkness and saw a great light rising—
or who, themselves, felt oppressed and weighed down
(by their life, their circumstances),
and heard in Jesus
hope and possibility.
Well, given what we know of Jesus,
it would’ve had to have been
in the transformative power of grace and love, right?
And into that hope—that fragile hope,
Jesus preached “Repent!”?
A couple of things.
And by couple I mean two.
First, that’s exactly what John the Baptist preached (Matthew 3:2).
And second, how absolutely hard to fathom.
How hard to imagine.
You nurture a flickering light.
You cup it in your hand.
You protect it.
You don’t yell at it.
repent—y’all know the word, right?
So fundamental to the message of the Hebrew prophets.
You know the Hebrew etymology?
It comes from the verb “to turn.”
So if you’re sitting there in the darkness,
and someone says “Turn!”
Do you think you might hear that
not as blame for the darkness,
but as invitation into the light?
Not as judgment, but as invitation.
And the full message is “Repent
for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
There’s a reason for the repenting—
The repenting—the turning—is a response.
And you might think to yourself, “Look at the contrast.
The kingdom of heaven has come near
making it that much more clear
how dark the lives we lead.”
Okay. Fair enough.
it’s also a word, specifically to those sitting oppressed
about the kingdom of heaven
being so close by—
even in the darkness.
Look and see—
in your darkness, light.
Quick turn look see!
Turn and catch a glimpse of hope—
That’s fair too, don’t you think?
More than fair.
It’s so interesting, by the way,
that phrase, the kingdom of heaven,
Matthew uses it thirty-two times in his gospel,
and the other gospel writers don’t use it at all
(David E. Garland, Reading Matthew:
A Literary and Theological Commentary
on the First Gospel
[New York: Crossroad, 1995] 47)!
Some say it’s synonymous with kingdom of God,
or even just with God,
which is fine,
but kingdom of heaven seems to set up more of a contrast
with kingdoms of earth.
And the prayer of the follower of Jesus, remember,
is that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven—
heaven as godly alternative—
the light rising in the darkness.
And that’s our transition into the next story,
the next part of our text
as Jesus encounters fishermen—
four of them—
first one set of brothers, then another.
And just because it’s interesting
in light of some of what we’ve said,
Simon and Andrew are both Greek names—
Simon, the Greek form of a Hebrew name, but still.
Galilee of the nations—of the Gentiles—
followers of Jesus.
Jesus calls two sets of brothers, two at a time,
“Hey! Turn this way!
The kingdom of heaven is near—
the godly alternative to what is.”
He calls them,
and they respond.
away from their jobs,
away from their families,
their responsibilities, their securities.
They turn to Jesus.
They turn to Jesus’ way.
Y’all know about parallelism in Hebrew scripture?
The repetition of a thought, an image, a word—
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.”
There’s our thought, our image, words,
because it’s all important:
“Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.”
There you go.
And here you go too—
in our story of two sets of sibling fishermen called.
Two stories, virtually the same.
Same thought, images, words.
So what’s being emphasized?
Well, there are a couple of options.
And by couple, this time, I mean five.
Some say the initiative of Jesus—
And they might point out
how it was customary
for disciples to petition rabbis to be their disciples.
You applied to be a disciple.
It was not for rabbis to call disciples.
So this story emphasizes the surprising initiative of God.
Some say this story emphasizes the authority of Jesus.
He spoke and they followed.
And we have here the divine word that calls forth new realities
that creates in its being spoken.
Not to deny either of those insights,
but what about a corresponding deep yearning
on behalf of everyday people,
going about their business,
doing their jobs—
a deep yearning for something else.
But not just some restless, “I wish I could do something else.”
A deep yearning for more—
for more to it.
That’s there too, isn’t it?
I read this week, by the way,
that a disciple’s ultimate commitment
was not to a rabbi, but to the law
the law the rabbi interpreted and taught.
How important to emphasize that our ultimate commitment
is to more than law—more than tradition—
is to Jesus—to God.
And one more thing:
having spent some time with our youth
up in the Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland,
I can tell you, if you’re standing at the top of a mountain
and someone goes by (on skis, let’s say)
and says, “Follow me! Turn this way and follow me!”
and if you do—
if you turn down the mountain behind someone,
I guarantee, you either know where you’re going
(which surely these four brothers didn’t),
or you know and you trust who’s calling you.
and I will make you,” he says to the fisherman,
interesting in and of itself (I will make you!)—
I will make you fish for people.
It’s such a standard faith image now,
that we hear it as faith image.
“Fisher of people, oh, yeah, that’s discipleship.”
I’ve wondered if much of our “standard” imagery of faith
whether that’s fisherpeople or herdspeople
or farmers and gardeners, with their seedtimes and harvests—
I’ve wondered if much of our standard imagery of faith
has less to do with what’s being talked about
than who’s being talked to—
wondered if Peter and Andrew, James and John
were addressed in terms and images familiar to them—
called from what they knew into more than they knew,
but within a framework of familiarity.
God called Moses (Exodus 3:1-9) and David (1 Samuel 16:11-13).
Both worked as shepherds and both became shepherds
of their people—
of God’s people.
Amos was also a shepherd,
and a dresser of sycamore trees too (Amos 7:14),
and along with sheep and shepherds,
sowers and harvesters and farmers,
trees, too, are stock images in the language of faith.
Again, maybe the question to ask,
is were they called because they worked in fields
that lend themselves to the imagery of our faith
(Jesus, you know, “hmmm,
I need to find me some fishermen to call”),
or were they called within their unique contexts—
their unique contexts then becoming transparent
to the kingdom of heaven?
“Turn to the godly alternative,
and allow your context to become transparent to the will of God.
Let your context preach.”
So maybe our task
is less to go on about fishers of people,
as to call ourselves within our specific contexts
in such a way as to claim those contexts
for the kingdom of heaven—
the kingdom of heaven which is coming closer
when we turn wherever we are—
whatever we’re doing—
when we turn to God.
And so we think of plumbers
who connect us to the source of living water
and keep the water flowing.
We think of teachers, who love their children more than their lessons,
who are invested in learning, but more in growing.
We think of doctors and nurses and chaplains
who know and can help us all see that caring for someone
is so much more than a physical process—
and that so is getting well.
We think of lawyers who remind us that life together
needs to be about justice,
singers, who give breath to another’s vision,
and engineers who know how important it is
to make things work—effectively, efficiently
and (because obviously I needed another adjective
beginning with an “e”) excellently!
Dancers who incarnate grace—
reminding us of just how much practice that takes,
and posing the question,
Do we put in the work necessary to incarnate grace?
It ain’t gonna just happen.
We think of i.t. (information technology) workers,
who remind us how to be connected
and yet maintain appropriate boundaries.
Artists, who affirm and celebrate the work and art of creation,
social workers, who remind us
that it takes work hard work to create and maintain a society,
and how we, everyday, make decisions
about what kind of society that will be,
bankers and financial advisors, who remind us to
(and how to) take care of our resources—
to be good stewards.
So what’s your job?
Have you thought how it could be transparent to God?
And if you’re retired, it’s not just about what you used to do!
But also about what retirement models.
The appropriateness of recognizing your place in time—
and that there is a time to work and a time to rest—
or as so many of you retired folks tell me,
a time to work even harder!!
And Jesus went throughout Galilee, we read.
Following Jesus takes some effort.He doesn’t stay still!
I’ve quoted that Pierce Pettis song before
“I can’t go with you and stay where I am, because you move me.”
(Gordon Kennedy and Pierce Pettis, “You Move Me”
on Making Light of It [Compass, 1996]).
Jesus went throughout Galilee
teaching in the synagogues,
preaching the good news of the kingdom of God—
inviting people in the darkness from the darkness into the light.
And people were moved.
So moving around, teaching, preaching,
and curing every disease and sickness among the people.
And I like to think Matthew’s suggesting here,
some awareness that getting well
is so much more than a physical process.
One last thing
(I was going to say a couple of last things,
but I really just have the one!).
You are called to be transparent to the kingdom of heaven—
that it might come near, in and through you—
your living, your relationships, your job.
There you go.
Consider your living this day—this and every day.
It is to reveal God.
It is to become to those who see and know you, your preaching!
Welcome to the preacher’s club!