Jesus Begins His Ministry in GalileeMatthew 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 sea, 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.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
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. 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 Ministers to Crowds of People
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.
Does anyone else feel exhausted after hearing today’s scripture reading? I mean, we just heard all about Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, and he starts off with a bang! In twelve verses, he moves to Capernaum, he calls his disciples and he travels around Galilee teaching, preaching and healing those who are sick. In twelve verses!
Up to this point, in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has spoken to John the Baptist, as he was baptized in the Jordan River, and the tempter, as he spent time in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. But the first words we hear Jesus say to everyone involve a call to change. In our pew Bibles, we heard, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
Now, “repent” is a word that often makes us uncomfortable because we know in our gut that it means that we have done something wrong. For hundreds if not thousands of years, the church universal has been projecting that feeling of guilt—that as human beings we are wrong and that we must say that we are sorry and pray for God’s forgiveness. Sometimes, we don’t even know what we have done wrong to being with! But if we really study this idea of what it means to “repent,” and we don’t let all that we have seen, heard, and experienced in the past cloud our vision, we find that, in Greek, the word “repent” is “metanoia,” which literally means “to perceive afterwards.” Did you hear that? “To perceive afterwards.”
Many scholars today believe that, rather than filling us with guilt, the act of repenting is supposed to give us a sense of responsibility and even hope. Because what if it actually means that we can see the consequences of our actions before we act and make a change? I guess we could call it “foresight,” but it is more than that. It’s about consciously thinking ahead to the effects that our thoughts and actions will have on the world around us.
So, if we think of it that way, the word “repent” means to be very observant and acutely aware with our speech, our emotions, and our intentions. It means that we accept a new level of responsibility because we consider the consequences of our actions beforehand and make changes as needed.
Can you imagine how different our world would be if, instead of being made to feel guilty for our actions and then praying for forgiveness, we were encouraged to take time to consider the consequences of our actions beforehand and make changes depending on how our words and actions might affect others?
Folks, every day in the news we hear stories of people who don’t consider the consequences of their actions before they act. They feel free to express themselves without concern about the effects that their words and actions might have on others. And it’s not just on the news. It’s on Facebook, and in conversations with friends and family. It’s on the playground, and it’s even here in church. The truth is, just because you may be comfortable saying something or doing something, I want you to take a minute to think about how the person on the other end might feel.
Friends, as Christians, if we are going to choose to follow Jesus and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we need to learn to repent in a more responsible way, a way that doesn’t just bring us down, causing us to doubt ourselves and our abilities, but a way that helps us to change in ways that builds up the body of Christ, making our church, our community, and our world healthier and stronger places for all. Doesn’t that sound like a more constructive way to share the love of God with the world?
Okay, so from our pew bibles this morning we heard Jesus say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” While in other translations we hear “Change your lives. The Kingdom of Heaven is coming.” So, what does that mean for us? Well, to be a part of God’s work is to make a change in the way we view the world and participate in it. And in deciding to be a follower of Jesus, we need to do just that—to make a change in the way we view the world and participate in it.
But unfortunately, that’s the part that many of us forget or miss completely. We like to think that, as followers of Jesus, if we come to church and we are nice to people, then we’re doing okay. But folks, our faith deserves far more than that.
One of the biggest problems that the wider church faces today is the fact that it continues to do things the way that it always has, without taking into consideration the changes in society and the new ways that we as human beings live. Now I am in no way saying that that means we should forget about the firm faith foundation that we stand on. But it does sometimes mean that we need to look beyond our own comfort and the way we’ve always understood church.
I talk to people all the time that have a very strong faith in Jesus, but they lose sight of it in the disfunction of their religion and in the politics of the church which simply doesn’t help them to connect with God. It’s in times like those that I think we need to remember that Jesus said, “Follow me.” He didn’t say, “Set up camp, get comfortable, and just talk about me.”
Now friends, one of the things that I truly appreciate about our church here in Oldtown is that the congregation is usually quite willing to try new things. Sometimes, we try something new and it works that’s great. And if it doesn’t work, we return to the old way of doing it, or we try something new.
But it takes passion and courage to try new things. It takes foresight. It takes consciously thinking ahead to the effects that our thoughts and actions will have on our church and our community, not only today but next year and for years and years to come. But what if that is how we as a church repent? By changing our ways and trying something new in order to truly follow Jesus?
Friends, it’s nice to feel comfortable and it’s nice to be surrounded by what we are used to. But sometimes we need to be pushed to try something new. Because sometimes when we do, we find out that we actually like it! In our storybook this morning, Sam-I-Am was determined to make his friends like green eggs and ham. Sam offered various places to try the food in a house, and in a box, and other animals to share the food with, like with a mouse and with a fox. In an effort to get Sam-I-Am to leave him alone, his friend finally agrees to try green eggs and ham and discovers, to his surprise, that he does indeed like them. And then in his excitement, he wants to share them in all the places and with all of the animals that Sam had mentioned before. Just like the unnamed character in our story this morning, Jesus calls us to accept his invitation to repent, changing our lives, following him to all the places where he goes, and ministering to all those to whom he ministers.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, think about what Jesus meant when he said “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” And rather than letting your faith fill you with guilt and negative self-worth, instead, make the changes that you need. Let your passion be fed and your courage strengthened so that you might follow Jesus out into the world, sharing God’s love in a boat and with a goat, in the rain and on a train, in a car and in a tree. It will be good, you will see. Friends, may you go out to share God’s love in a box and with a fox, in a house and with a mouse. May you share it here and there, as you share it everywhere!! Knowing that you are loved beyond measure by the great I AM!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!