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Epiphany 3A Sermon
Matthew 4: 12-25
January
26, 2020

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
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.’
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
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 lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

When we hear this story of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James and John – remembering also his calling of other disciples who left everything to follow him – we cannot help but wonder why this rabbi, Jesus, would invite these particular men to become his students. Those who we know as “The Twelve” were by no means perfect: Judas betrayed, Peter denied, Thomas doubted, James & John fought about greatness, and the whole lot of them scattered and hid behind locked doors when things got tough. And yet, eleven of the original twelve are called Saints in the church – not because they were perfect, but because in their relationship with Jesus, they found the courage and direction to share his love in awesome ways!

I remember once seeing a video explaining the proce of how a Jewish boy in Jesus’ day would have been raised in the faith, and how some would eventually go on to follow one particular rabbi into their adulthood. All young boys were supposed to study the Torah through a process called, “Beit Torah” until they were 10 years old. After that point, most of these young people would become apprentices and learn the family business, but the best of these would be asked to go on and study the scripture further at “Beit Talmud” school. Upon completion (about age 14) the same thing happened as before – most boys went into learning a trade while the best of the best continued their religious studies at “Beit Midrash.” Beit Midrash concluded at about age 18. Again, most who complete this school go into their family trades.

But, at this point a Rabbi might ask someone who was the best of the best of the best to follow him. Rabbis were people who had become experts in the Hebrew scripture. They not only knew it inside and out, literally memorizing it completely, but also interpreting them with their own perspective or nuance, called their “yoke.” It is much like a yoke that is placed over the shoulders of oxen as they pull their load. So, if a Rabbi deems a person worthy enough, one of the best of the best of the best, the invitation to “follow me” may be offered, and the Rabbi’s yoke could be taken upon their shoulders and they could literally follow them. Kind of gives some perspective on Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”

It also gives perspective on what makes for a good disciple in the eyes of Jesus. In our scripture lesson for today, Jesus is talking to two sets of brothers – Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. These four men are engaging in their family trade – somewhere along the line they were asked to go no further in their studies of the Hebrew scripture. Whether at the end of Beit Torah, Talmud or Midrash it was decided that they were not the best and not good enough to move on. As a result, in their early adulthood, they are fishing on a lake rather than following around a Rabbi. But here is Jesus – a Rabbi, and more than a Rabbi, he is the very son of God; he invites them to come and follow him. A Rabbi would never call a person to follow him unless that Rabbi knew for certain that the young man had what it took to be just like him. Jesus had faith in these four men to be able to become just like him. Later in the gospel Jesus has faith enough in a tax collector and other imperfect men call them to be just like him. Jesus goes against conventional wisdom and calls not the intellectual or spiritual elite, but ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

The place where all of this happens is also very important: it is in Capernaum, where Jesus will now call home; and Capernaum is in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali – a strategic place over the centuries that includes a byway from inland to the Mediterranean Sea as well as access to lush fields that grow grain and grapes and other crops. Also here is the Sea of Galilee – or more accurately, a freshwater lake teeming with fish that is a major source of food for the region. These regions are mentioned in our first lesson from Isaiah 9, and the people who live there have walked in deep darkness. The reason is that these people have rarely in their history ruled themselves. They have been conquered and occupied by many empires, and people continue to feel pity for them. It was as if they had no hope for an existence of their own.

When Jesus hears of John The Baptist’s arrest, he retreats to this area. One with earthly power sits on a throne in Jerusalem and is unpredictable; this one with spiritual authority resides in a place where people have been beaten down and conquered their whole history. This is where God has come in Jesus Christ. And these otherwise worthless men – fishermen, tax collectors and the like – are the ones that Jesus chooses to participate in the kingdom of heaven, which has come near.
In those places where we feel most helpless, Jesus comes to shine a light on God’s presence with us to heal and bring joy. And remembering how similar we are to Simon, Peter, James, John, Matthew and the rest, we can be confident that Jesus sees in us a worthiness to be called to be his disciples and to follow him. Indeed, we are able to follow and be like our Rabbi. I think that when we hear this passage, we often picture these people leaving home and family and the family trade behind never to return. I don’t think that was necessarily what happened. Jesus’ disciples were often found in the boats, mending nets and fishing in order to support themselves. And Jesus had interaction with the families of these fellows, even healing Peter’s mother-in-law at her home in Capernaum. In this way, they are a lot like us – trying to be disciples not by forsaking everything in our lives, but trying to figure out how to put a priority on following Jesus while life goes on in their neighborhoods, families, friends, and occupations.

“Follow me” is a literal invitation, and in the dry conditions of the land of Israel, there is a saying that was shared when people accepted the invitation to follow someone in this way: “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi!” my fellow Christian disciples, that is my prayer for our congregation and for each of us who are called by the great Rabbi, Jesus: that we all be covered with the dust of our Rabbi. That we follow so closely – no matter where we go – that we experience God’s light in our deepest darkness, and that we share the light of Jesus in all that we do by being people of love, compassion, truth, forgiveness, hope and joy.

Disciples are not perfect, but they are people who are covered with the dust of their Rabbi. By virtue of our baptisms, we are called to follow Jesus – to take his yoke upon ourselves and to be like him in love and joy and compassion. Together, may we heed the call to follow Jesus so that wherever we go, and whatever we do, we live out the traits of the one who deems us worthy to take his yoke and follow him. May it be so in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen!