Happy Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday faithful readers! Today we’re looking at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Matthew, and picking up immediately following Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and his period of temptation in the wilderness… I am aware that today folks usually blog about love or Ash Wednesday, but I'm going to do something a little different here. I figure that since the mission of Jesus revealed the content of God's love, and since that mission gives hope and direction to our short lives (a la Ash Wednesday) it's probably okay to blog about it today!
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
18 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 sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23 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. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
1. Go, Reveal, Invite
This story provides us with the paradigm for Jesus’ ministry: he goes to a place (here he moves to Capernaum), he reveals the Kingdom of God, and then he invites people to join the community that is centered on the Kingdom. Then of course the process repeats! And notice that as soon as the community grows, it’s “new members” (i.e. the disciples) join into the work of going and revealing and inviting. Now, if this story does present a paradigm for disciples of Jesus, and if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, it begs a question: who are we going to? This is a vital question for us to answer if we are to be faithful to our calling. Can you articulate who you are going to? If not, now is a great time to start working on an answer to that question!
2. What’s the job of a disciple anyway?
It’s easy to get tripped up on this “disciple” thing. Is that a follower? A believer? Something else? What makes someone a “disciple?” Here’s a simple way to think about it: a disciple is someone trying to imitate the master. If the disciple is successful, he or she will look like/be like the master, and can help other people imitate the master as well (as in, make new disciples). So being a disciple isn’t just doing something, nor is it just believing something, although it involves both of those. Rather, it is willing something. To be a disciple is to will (to strive, seek, etc.) to become like the master. Note here also that the call of the disciples is linked to the Kingdom of God. Jesus announces the Kingdom and lives a life completely aligned to the Kingdom. Therefore his disciples are learning to align themselves to the Kingdom too… which will in turn allow them to do that “go, reveal, invite” thing we discussed above. To align others to the kingdom is to “fish for people.”
No romantic images please!
Sorry for bursting the Valentine’s Day bubble here, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing the early days of Jesus’ ministry. Please note that this whole story begins with the arrest of John the Baptist. Remember, John was the guy who basically handed over the baton to Jesus. Not good! Most of us would not be super excited about taking a new job when the last guy got arrested for doing his job so well. And it seems pretty reasonable to believe that in fact Jesus is moving to Capernaum (which is in the far north of Galilee) in this story to get some breathing room from Herod Antipas, the ruler who arrested and eventually killed John.
The point is that the ministry of Jesus was difficult and dangerous from the very beginning. His work began in the shadow of oppression and in the face of opposition, and his call from the start was a call to face real troubles. Jesus was not a popular guy who blazed a path of glory and then had a bad week in Jerusalem. His ministry was filled with conflict from day one. And here’s why that matters to us: starting new things and trying to “go, reveal and invite” is really hard work. Sometimes we think that because it’s hard, because there’s conflict or danger or trouble that we’re doing something wrong. But if we’re trying to do Jesus’ work we should know that the hardship comes with the territory. So if you’re in this boat, be encouraged today, because you have the best possible company (Jesus!). If it’s an easy and trouble-free journey then it’s not a journey with the Master.