Monday, January 16, 2017

Cast A Net!



THE LESSON for the Third Sunday after Epiphany comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Within the text, a connection is firmly made between the Word of salvation predicted by a prophet, and our Lord’s calling of his first disciples…

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward 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 preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 
 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 fishers of men." 
 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 
 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 
 And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. 
                                                                                                (Matthew 4:12-23)

This Jesus!
The writer of Matthew tied the prophecy of Israel’s history to the particular vision of Our Lord Jesus as the Eternal Light. Thus the writer pointed us not only to the salvation of Israel, but to the future of the Gentiles as well. As the scripture is read from Matthew, we may notice the text refers back in time to words from the prophet Isaiah.

“But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (Isaiah 9:1-3)

We rightly note that our Matthean text offered for today is exclusive in using this narrative in the gospel telling. Therefore, not drawn from the earlier-penned Markan script... nor included in the Lukan narrative... it likely did have special meaning for the community of the writer… and that meaning was surely prophetic. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the writer obviously examined the text of Isaiah, and saw within it God’s proclamation of the Word throughout the world. Guided by the Spirit, he noted that based in the diaspora of the Jews within those earlier days within the Greek Empire, the monotheistic Judean belief expressions were to be told in a world enamored with nature gods and false religions. Our author thus viewed the birth and ministry of Christ as key to the fulfillment foretold, so to be reaching beyond the mere borders of Israel.
 Addressing persons who were in his community, both native born and non-Hebrew proselytes having been steeped in the prophetic writings of Isaiah, the author under girded his vision of carrying the gospel message forward into the “nations”. The text therefore carried a great evangelical focus.
 Indeed, by the power of the Spirit people who had formerly walked in darkness, through the ministry of Jesus as the Messiah… had been given a great Light. The Light of God had shined. The focus shifted from Israel as a nation, unto a wider definition of just what nation meant to our Lord. Thus the prophecy spoke smartly to those of the Antioch synagogue and its Syrian Christian population, for they clearly read… “all the people will know…”.
 Jesus was thus revealed by Matthew as born into the world, baptized by John, tempted by Satan… and exercising God's will as the Chosen, the Messiah.., the Christ. As the Deliver of his chosen people, therefore, Jesus revealed the graceful will of God. Thus the writer described that the term “kingdom of God” was to include a far greater number of souls than any Hebrew could imagine.

Inclusitivity!
 Centered from Capernaum, the Galilean area became historically important as the center of our Lord's early ministry. In Matthew's mention of ancient and lowly Zebulun and Naphtali we recognize the names of given to the tribes of Israel, and locations in Canaan who were called after them. In the Canaanite backwaters, therefore, we see that God thus used even the lowest of the low. Undeserving and lowly persons found their role within historic Israel’s recollection. These, called as shepherds in the field, were to be foundations for the salvation of the nations.
 Therefore we note most importantly, that Matthew begins the path for salvation exactly where Jesus ministry was described in the Gospel According to Saint Mark, as our Lord said… "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."  (Mark 1:15).
 However, stating with slight difference, with just…"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”, we see this in comparison, that  “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are used quite interchangeably. I offer this to demonstrate the simple regional linguistic preference between the earlier writer and audience of Mark. Mark's gospel is said to have been penned in Rome and near Alexandria in Egypt, and those found within Matthew’s congregations came out of Syria. Each reflects their own subtle, historical connotations… adapted for those local minds considering the message in their specific congregations. Thus the theme we note central here is that central to both writers, in telling the good news in the widespread locations... the importance was placed on repentance as first step. Like unto that message preached by John the Baptist, repentance was opening key to both communities.
 We may conclude that the doctrine of repentance is right doctrine. Repentance calls us to be sorrowful for our sin, and turns us around to face God and his judgment. Without repentance there is no salvation! Therefore, we see that not only wilderness prophet John the Baptist, but our gracious Lord Jesus, preached that repentance drives us humbly to the throne of Almighty God, to seek God’s favor. However, unlike John, repentance for followers of Jesus led not just to annual forgiveness by washing, prayer and sacrifice... as found earlier in Hebrew history... but went beyond these things to faith given in the good news being delivered. Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb! Through Matthew, Jesus announced that the kingdom was imminently near… “at hand”. The congregation hearing this reading, could see fulfillment on the horizon, the King of Heaven and Earth, of all Creation… was right before them.

Proclaim!
Jesus gathered disciples as he began to preach. These first named persons would be hearers, and afterwards preachers... of his salvation message. They would be witnesses of his miracles and would eventually testify concerning him. Therefore when Christ returns, we might add... would it not be good to be found in the doings of the apostles. We must ask, “Are we in Christ?"
 In keeping with this calling, those who would follow Christ today must also be ready, at his command, to place all things in proper perspective and follow. Though we differ as to cost, direction taken and method, like the apostles we must be ready to part if needed with earthly things. This example of the power of the Lord Jesus toward salvation, encourages the church then and now to depend upon solely upon his grace.
 Know this! Persons in our modern society who are yet without Christ strive in darkness. Like those Galilean men who sat in the empty boat after fishing all night on the lake long ago, many today sit in relative discontent not quite knowing their peril, but sensing great emptiness. Living... but not fully alive, we experience eternal Life only through gospel proclamation. Jesus comes through the church in proclaimed Word and Sacrament. Therefore, the clarion should ring outward from the nave of churches, “Repent, believe the good news!", This message should be heard clearly so that others see their life changed.
 You see, by receiving the gospel, the Light is suddenly present. Jesus was at hand for the early disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as physical light is seen, reflects and directs the lost;  so does the message of Light work from this gospel. The good news contained in our reading frees us today for service. We are now among those who are called to repentance! We become the forgiven, and the changed.., just as those who were going about their daily chores on the seashore at Galilee. Jesus, the Messiah.., our Teacher, our Healer, our Savior… and Lord… truly beckons us to be his disciples. So be it. Grab the lines of your nets firmly… and pull, saying, “Thanks be to God.”
 Each of us have received a talent of witness in some way. Some have appropriated and conveyed the message in ways most pleasing. Of such is a video made by a local family. Though each of us has evangelical talent in various and other ways, I invite you to enjoy this one...


What can you do to spread the good news? May the Peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.







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