Matthew 4:12-23, Epiphany 3 A, January 26, 2014 (Annual Meeting)
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Sometimes far off places can be just like home.
When we hear stories from the Bible, we often think of them like a fairy tales. We hear of far off places like Galilee, Nazareth, and Capernaum. The people have strange names like Zebulun, Naphtali, and Zebedee. These stories hail from ancient cultures with customs that we do not understand. In many ways, Israel is very different from Iowa. But maybe we are more similar than you would think.
When Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested, he leaves Nazareth in Galilee to go to Capernaum, a thirty-mile walk. That may sound like a long distance, but it really is like going from West Davenport to Princeton. Jesus left Nazareth, which certainly was not a booming town in those days. Yet Capernaum was even smaller.
Capernaum was a small town on the Sea of Galilee. There were about 1,000 people living in Capernaum, some in the city and others in the countryside around the town. Most of the people living there were either farmers or fishermen. Sound familiar?
You may ask, why would Jesus go to somewhere like Princeton to start his ministry? We aren’t special here. Many of us don’t have exciting lives, but instead we enjoy the slow, casual pace of life away from the busy Quad Cities. We enjoy knowing our neighbors and the people in the pews. Why would Jesus reach out to people like us?
That is a great question, one that many people have asked. A better question is, “Why not us?” Why shouldn’t Jesus go to the unimportant, regular people first? By doing so, we can step into the disciples’ shoes and see Jesus’ ministry from their perspective.
Who were these fishermen?
These fishermen were simple people. They were not known for their intelligence. They could not read, nor had they ventured far from home. Instead, they were diligent, persistent, and strong. They were not rich, but their work usually produced enough to get by.
The life of a fisherman was a hard life. They had to be strong enough to haul in their nets full of fish, yet they had to have enough fine dexterity to mend their nets. They worked long hours in relative isolation. They could quickly clean the fish that they caught. Sometimes, all of their hard labor produced very few results.
These were the people that Jesus called to follow him. He did not call scholars who were desperate to study under a rabbi. These men probably had very little education, and they were ok with that. Knowing all of this, it is no wonder why the disciples were often so clueless about Jesus’ teaching!
The passage explained
After John’s arrest, Jesus leaves Nazareth, his hometown. Jesus was ready to begin his ministry, but he did not want Herod Antipas breathing down his neck. So, he travels the thirty miles to the small fishing town of Capernaum. He quickly settles in and begins to preach saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Jesus is quoting John the Baptist word for word. Jesus is continuing where John left off.
Then Jesus approaches first Simon Peter and Andrew and next James and John. He makes a strange, unexpected request: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Without question or hesitation, they drop everything and immediately follow Jesus.
I wonder how long Jesus was in Capernaum before he called those fishermen to follow him. I wonder if the fishermen heard Jesus preach. When they dropped everything and followed Jesus, did they know what they were getting themselves into? Did they realize how difficult their next few years would be?
Did they know that Jesus would heal people without explanation? Or that he would teach using confusing riddles? Did they know that Jesus would end up dying a horrible death on the cross? Did they know that they would become the first church of Christ?
No, I think not. They may have had some idea of who Jesus was, but they had no way of knowing all that was to come. Somehow, they knew that this Jesus was someone special. So, they followed him throughout Galilee. They listened to Jesus preach and teach. They watched him cure people from incurable diseases.
These simple men with strong hands and gentle hearts followed Jesus across the country. They even followed him into Jerusalem where he was destined to die. They witnessed his resurrection and shared his story so that we also can become disciples.
Now it is our turn.
The first disciples did their part, and they have passed their story down through the generations and laid Jesus’ mission in our hands. Not only are we blessed with the written scriptures, but we also have centuries of traditions, rituals, and theology. Throughout Christian history, we have seen so many fabulous examples of how to – and how not to – be the church.
So, what are we going to do with it? We are at a turning point in our church. Today, we are going to elect new council members and adopt a new budget. We are going to review the past year and look toward the next. Throughout our meeting, ask yourself and each other, “How are we being disciples of Christ? How are we continuing his mission?”
After Jesus heard that John the Baptist was taken into prison, he left a place like West Davenport and came to a small, rural place just like our own. He went up to people just like you and me and said, “Come. Follow me. I will make you fishers of people.”
Let us leave behind everything that is getting in the way of us following Jesus. Let us leave behind our grudges, our laziness, and our fear. Let us leave behind anyone or anything that distracts us from the will of God. Let us leave it all behind so that we can follow Jesus into the community where we can share the good news and help those in need.
We can do this because God strengthens us through worship, study, and prayer. By joining together here, the Holy Spirit prepares us for the ministries that we are called to do. Jesus shapes us into the people God calls us to be. Thanks be to God! Amen.