By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 26, 2020
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 While walking 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 fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
The past few weeks we have really focused on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. I do not really think I have focused on that relationship as in depth as I have in the past couple of months, but I do feel we do not give John the respect that he deserves. Jesus even tells us that John is the greatest man to ever be born, which is saying a great deal.
Jesus supports John’s ministry. While I was participating in Ignatian Spiritual Exercises a few years ago, my spiritual director told me that many in their tradition of faith believe that early in Jesus’s ministry he supported John. That idea is supported to some degree in today’s passage, but I do not necessarily believe that Jesus and John were partners. I personally believe that Jesus and John did not compete against each other and when people spoke about the two, they both stood aside for the other.
The other gospel accounts suggest that there was a time where both Jesus and John were actively ministering at the same time, but Matthew suggests that Jesus was not fully engaged in his ministry until after John was arrested. I find that interesting. It is almost as if Matthew wants to make a distinction between the two expressions of faith, even though both the ministry of John and that of Jesus take much of the same approach from different trajectories. They both preach the same gospel message, which is that the kingdom of God is at hand or near. That was the original gospel message, the message of the kingdom was the only gospel message until after the death and resurrection of Christ. And I think that that message is something that we often overlook because too often we have morphed the Gospel into something incomplete by focusing on the how kingdom is won, instead of the what that kingdom truly is. Both Jesus and John passionately proclaim the same Gospel, they both speak to those that will listen to repent, to turn or to return to the heart of the Law. And to live with God today.
Jesus heard that John had been arrested, and that report seemed to speak to Jesus, telling him that now is the time to move out of his obscure life as a local handy man and begin taking the journey of the lamb. Prior to this Jesus lived and worked in Nazareth, that land in the far north of Israel, the land that was somewhat set apart from the rest of Judea because of the province of Samaria that separated it from Jerusalem. The land of Nazareth did not have the greatest reputation. They were regarded as Jews but because of the distance from the cultural center and lower population, the people there were often seen as being a bit ignorant. But these people were proud of who they were, they were often the ones that lead the independence movements and it was from Nazareth that many of the nationalistic rebels emerged. This is not surprising because they lived in an area closer to the more Hellenistic cultural centers.
If we were to give an example of these geographical centers in relation to our own nation, Nazareth might be likened to Appalachia in the United States where Jerusalem is New England. In our nation when we speak of American History a great majority is found in New England because it was in that region where events like the Boston Tea Party occurred. But if you were to ask the people of those areas what their heritage was, you would hear more people speaking of their ancestry, saying things like, “I am English or Italian.” But if you were to speak to those in Appalachia, they would more likely say I am American. Our cultural identity came from New England, but the pride often comes from other areas, the areas many people might refer to as hillbillies or good ol’ boys.
Jesus came from Nazareth and he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea. Nazareth was divided from the rest of Judea not only by Samaria but also a region that was highly settled by Gentiles. When the Greek culture moved into Israel after the conquest of Alexander the Great, they settled around the sea of Galilee. In this region, though it was part of Israel, the Jewish population in the first century was a minority. Jesus moved from Nazareth, the area known for their ignorant pride, to Galilee the of the Gentiles. He basically moved to Las Vegas.
John withdrew to the wilderness; Jesus went to the valley of the shadows. John called Israel to repent, and Jesus seems to make no distinction between Jew or Gentile but calls all people to repentance.
Jesus moves into this new community, and he begins to speak. His first message echoes the message of John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This statement attracts the attention of many, because the wilderness preacher had been saying those words as well. That man was betrayed and taken to jail, but the message remains. Jesus continues to walk, and he make his way to the sea, and he sees two brothers working there.
Last week we spoke about the time just after Jesus was baptized, and John saw him walking in the distance and said to his disciples, “Behold the lamb of God.” When his disciples heard him say this, they left John’s side and followed Jesus and spent the night talking with him. One of those men, was Andrew.
The timeline might seem odd. But Simon and Andrew already knew Jesus. They knew that John had great respect for him, they had even spent time with him, but at that time Jesus was a craftsman, not widely known as a teacher. At this point John was the teacher that people followed, and John had been taken to jail. These men were eager, they were filled with righteous desire, but they were common men. They were men that were far from the cultural center, they were overlooked by the pharisees, but they had passion.
These men existed in obscurity. This does not mean that they were unimportant. In many cultures there are certain values accredited to positions. Most of these accreditations revolve around some form of education. There is nothing wrong with an education. In fact, it is one of the most important things that we can give to those around us. But cultures run a risk when we regard degrees and diplomas as equivalent to wisdom. I say this as what many would call an educated individual. I worked hard for my degrees, but my degrees are worthless if I had not learned to translate the things, I have learned into language that those without that education can understand. If I am unable to communicate, encourage, and apply my knowledge it does not matter how many degrees I possess. These men did not have the degrees of their culture, and many might consider them to be ignorant because of that. That does not mean that they did not seek knowledge and wisdom.
The pursuit of knowledge is one of the amazing aspects of humanity. When we actively pursue knowledge our culture progresses. This occurs in different ways and in various stages. It also requires many people working in conjunction with one another. Each person adding a bit more to what others have provided. When humanity stops pursuing knowledge, we enter a cultural recession. These recessions tend to divide people. One group has knowledge and they seek to use that to control those without. The other group does not have the knowledge and they resist and resent those they perceive to be elite. These divisions tear a culture apart, and those cultures enter a stagnant period we can describe as a dark age.
Israel was on the brink of a dark age. Jerusalem was their cultural center; it was where the most important people gathered. Those within that center looked at the surrounding area with contempt because they were ignorant. John began to point this out when he went to the wilderness. John taught outside the temple industrial complex, he went to the wilderness and he taught the common, not the elite.
The idea is to bring the knowledge to the people. Encourage and inspire those that did not have the opportunity before. But it is not just to get a following, it is to ignite a revival, a renaissance. Jesus went out to the sea and he found two men fishing and he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He is telling them that he will teach them the wisdom of God, he will show them a different lifestyle that will change the world. He is telling them not to settle, but to passionately pursue something greater.
Many of us feel as if we are living on the brink of a dark age. Our culture seems to be divided in a way that we have not experienced before. Though life is better than many of us think, a large portion of our population finds itself in a place of stagnation. I recently read a report that said that most of the emerging generations will earn less than the pervious generation, which is something that has not occurred in the last hundred years. The generation today has more in common with those just prior to the great depression. This is a sobering perspective, because that type of hardship is distracting. It intensifies division, and cultural decline. How can we stop it?
Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” I thought a great deal on this concept this week. And as I studied, I learned that the fishing metaphor was used in pagan and Jewish traditions. It is an idea of pulling people out of the current situation and setting them in a new life. Jesus is calling Peter and Andrew to participate with him, not only in a ministry, but initiating the kingdom that he was preaching about. A kingdom that is not based on the ideas and concepts of worldly kingdoms, but one that is based on restoration, community, and moving individuals together to a different perspective. Jesus is calling them to participate in a life and lifestyle that will promote mutual profit, based on how we can improve each other instead of the intense competition for selfish gain. He is calling them, and us with them, to a life where humanity is more important than anything else.
Jesus’s call to the disciples is a call to form a people of God once again like Israel’s ancestors as they left Egyptian slavery. When Israel left Egypt, they were not a nation. They wondered through the wilderness for forty years learning to live together with God as a guide. They had forgotten who they were, and God is calling them back. He is calling us too. He is calling us to be a people that sees the humanity of those around us, the humanity that was created to bear the image of God. He is calling us to a life and lifestyle that will immerse our communities with his spirit. Removing the distractions so that the light of God can shine through.
As we now enter this time of open worship. I encourage us all to consider the passion of those first disciples. The passion that drove them to drop what they were doing to follow Jesus. Consider the calling to become fishers of men, and how that means to lift humanity out of one situation and integrate them into a new life. And consider where you are in that call.