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Epiphany 3

Epiphany 3 Year A

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

Matthew Chapter 4 Verse 12

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.

From then onwards…

The gospel reading this morning seems to be in two halves.

The first part speaks of Jesus’ return to Galilee following His temptation

The second part speaks about the call of the first disciples.

And between them Matthew and announces the start of Jesus ministry.  He introduces it with a phrase which we shall hear again later in the gospel and in both cases it’s a clue that things are about to change.  It sets the scene and invites the readers to look closely at the words that follow.

Matthew uses the phrase, ‘From then onwards’…    …this time the scene that is being set is the outline, essence and theme of his gospel and therefore the introduction to all that Matthew is about to unveil as he writes...

The second time it occurs is when Jesus has just asked His disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and Peter replies with great insight that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  

Once this has happened the phrase is used and the direction changes as a new scene is set, Jesus begins to explain that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, die and rise from the dead.  Mt 16 v 21.

This time Matthew states, ‘From then onwards…’, Jesus begins His proclamation with the message, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’

Two of Matthews’s great themes are the Kingdom of God being made real on earth and repentance.  Matthew sets us up and then delivers the message of His gospel in a few short words. 

It’s like he’s saying, even if you get no further in reading the gospel, you know what it’s about.  He then goes on the explain what repentance and the Kingdom of God being close at hand might mean and the implications it has for everyone as his gospel unfolds.

Today’s reading seems to start with a very un-Matthean disjoint.  We’ve just read about the temptations and now Matthew is straight into ‘Hearing the John had been arrested…’  Where did that come from?  Matthew has not introduced the topic of John’s arrest, it must have been common knowledge at the time.

But partly, as he’s setting out his gospel he’s continuing to link the old with the new.

He speaks of Jesus leaving Nazareth and moving to Capernaum.

He refers to a quotation from Isaiah mentioning two of the northern most tribes of Israel, he speaks about the lands of Zebulun (where Nazareth is situated) and Naphtali (where Capernaum is located). 

Both are close to one of the main trading roads of the time, from Damascus to Caesarea, the Way of the Sea, the via Maris, mentioned in the gospel reading.

He refers to them as the ‘The Galilee of the Gentiles’ as the region was known from its historically large gentile population.  The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.  .Both the Jews and the Gentiles who live there

And so the scene is set.  Something new is about to happen.  Jesus’ ministry is about to start.  Pay attention to what is about to follow… 

And then, in this very Jewish gospel, Matthew makes the point that Jesus begins His ministry, not in Jerusalem, but in the land which is more associated with gentiles…   …what is happening!!

This is to be a very different ‘Kingdom of God’ which is announced.  A Kingdom for all.  Its ground breaking and radical stuff!!

And Matthew tells us this just in a few short words…   …not bad for someone more known for logical argument and detailed structure….

And then Matthew recounts the calling of the first disciples to this new Kingdom

And, rather than disciples deciding who they would follow, which was the norm, now it’s the other way round, Jesus calls the disciples, by name.

Not only does he call them by name, he asks for their obedience and promises that He’ll provide for them as He equips them for the task to which they have been called.

They will be involved in speaking about this new Kingdom, part of bringing it about, in their lifetime.

As they are called, they are invited to be part of the task of bringing others into the Kingdom.  

Remember this is Matthew setting out the frame of reference for His gospel.  As those who are called this is part of our task too.  Part of being part of the new Kingdom that Matthew speaks of in his gospel.

Perhaps what is startling is that the disciples that Jesus calls immediately respond, and in such a positive manner.

In a phrase more Marcan than Matthean, we are told that ‘At once’ they left their nets, boats, security and family and followed Jesus.

They left behind their past pre-occupations and followed Jesus.  It was an unconditional response as they re-ordered their priorities.   Jesus invitation to everyone is to do the same.  To be part of bringing His Kingdom about in their worlds.  He continues to call each one of us by name, invites us to be part of His work.

Similarly He asks if we are willing to make the same unconditional response.  To leave behind the things that give us security and step out with Him.

To start or restart out on a journey with Him, like the first disciples, not knowing necessarily what it might entail or where it might lead.

But start from where we are, just like those early fishermen who perhaps imagined that at their time of life their lot was cast.  They know what life now had in store for them.  How wrong they were, as they went on to play their part in changing the word though a journey they never imagined.

We’ve seen much about journeys over this past week.  About people who went to the moon, about people who went on trains in Germany, or perhaps just missed them, people who took journeys to different countries to find a new life.

Just as the reading starts with a bit of a dis-joint, so it ends with one too.  Were told that Jesus went around Galilee, teaching in their synagogues.  No mention of Him having acquired great wisdom, or having been trained to do so. 

It’s as if Matthew is saying that the Kingdom of God is for all, and those who are part of the establishment are included too.  Your background really is unimportant in that sense.  You ca be part of the established church or not, it doesn’t matter, the new Kingdom is for all.   

In some ways, that’s exactly what Jesus invites all people to, whether they are part of a church or not.  He does not throw away the past, as Matthew points out, it’s very important to Him.  But he does call and invite us to go on a journey with Him from wherever we are, to respond to His call, and perhaps go on a journey, even now, we never possibly imagined.