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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before January 26, 2014


Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so 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— 16the 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.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As 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. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As 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. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus 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.

What I am Learning:

Matthew continues to use references in the Hebrew scriptures to help frame the situation of the People of Israel in Jesus’ day. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali were the two northern areas of Israel. They were territories that were often occupied by the powerful states in the north. Around 722 BCE, these two lands were taken over by the Assyrians. The deep darkness spoken of here is not some merely poetic reference. Nor is it talking about the ups and downs of human existence. This passage refers to the terrors and injustices of being occupied, having your rights taken away and losing your land.

In Isaiah 9, the prophet tells the community in those lands that one day a light would shine as God would bring freedom to them. Just as to a hungry person, the Gospel is to be fed, to an occupied nation good news is freedom.

God’s promises to their ancestors was once again being remembered in the midst of Roman occupation. This time the light is embodied in Jesus. He was the one who will lead them to freedom.

This freedom from occupation to be a blessing to all nations is the heart of Jesus’ speech: “the kingdom of God has come near.”

But notice that the whole thing starts with John’s arrest. Jesus is preaching basically the same thing as John. Hearing of John’s arrest he withdraws to Galilee – to Zebulun and Naphtali.  Does he withdraw out of fear? Is Jesus intimidated?

I think of this as a strategic retreat, Jesus going to the outer districts where he can build a movement. Make no mistake, his movement is a revolutionary movement.

Jesus then calls disciples to “fish for people.” By saying this, Jesus is not encouraging us to hook people with coercion or manipulation.  Water and all that was in them was claimed by the Roman Empire. To be “fished from the water” was a to be set free so that one’s life resonated with God and not with the empire.

By calling these disciples Jesus is fishing them with an invitation to follow him and to learn from him as a student learns from a rabbi. As they follow him, they will join him in fishing others from the Roman waters, from the worldview of the Roman Empire, to God’s reign of mutuality.

Baptism is the beginning of a life-long process of being reoriented to God’s way of mutuality. None of us are totally reoriented. None of us own or possess it. We ourselves are fished out of domination culture every day and we can respond to being fished out of it the way a fish responds to the net – to flop around on the bottom of the boat. To change our orientation from one worldview to another is a painful process. It causes great discomfort.

This real and deep and painful process is why baptism is seen as a death and rebirth. We die to one way of seeing and being and rise to another. When we die to a worldview of domination, we don’t necessarily know fully the worldview to which we are being called. There is always uncertainty, not just in our minds, but in our very guts. It changes not only the way we see the world, but the way we see ourselves.

To engage in this change is I think what the Christian Scriptures mean by “faith.”

To follow Jesus, then, is to be committed to a life-long process of deep change, not to have all the answers and to invite others to   reorient their life to God’s reign, joining us in a life of transformation, as God brings new life, light and new identity to us.