The Third Sunday after The Epiphany
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 4:12-23

THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, “NOW WHEN JESUS HEARD THAT JOHN HAD BEEN ARRESTED, HE WITHDREW TO GALILEE,” TENDS TO LEAD US TO A VERY DISTORTED UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IS GOING ON. WHENEVER WE TRANSLATE FROM ONE LANGUAGE TO ANOTHER, WE HAVE TO MAKE CHOICES OVER THE MEANING OF THE ORIGINAL WORD IN OUR LANGUAGE. THE CHOICE OF THE WORD “WITHDREW” IS A BAD ONE, BECAUSE IT IMPLIES THAT JESUS WAS RUNNING AWAY TO GALILEE TO AVOID THE SAME FATE AS JOHN. A MUCH BETTER CHOICE OF WORD WOULD HAVE BEEN “RELOCATED,” WHICH IS SUPPORTED BY THE GREEK, AND GIVES US A BETTER SENSE OF WHAT JESUS WAS DOING.

JOHN WAS ARRESTED BY HEROD ANTIPAS, WHO WAS THE RULER OF GALILEE. WHEN JESUS, WHO WAS SAFE IN JUDEA, HEARD THAT JOHN HAD BEEN ARRESTED, HE RELOCATED TO THE VERY CENTER OF HEROD ANTIPAS’ POWER. RATHER THAN RUNNING AWAY FROM DANGER, JESUS WALKS RIGHT INTO IT AS A CHALLENGE TO THE EARTHLY POWER. MATTHEW TELLS US THIS WAS TO FULFILL THE PROPHECY OF ISAIAH, AS MANY OF JESUS’ MOVEMENTS AND ACTIONS WERE THE FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY. JESUS MAKES A COMPLETE BREAK WITH HIS BOYHOOD HOME AND RELOCATES TO CAPERNAUM, A CROSSROAD TOWN IN GALILEE OF THE GENTILES. IN GALILEE, DESPISED BY THE RIGHTEOUS JEWS AS A RELIGIOUSLY IMPURE REGION, FULL OF CORRUPTED JEWS, UNCLEAN GENTILES, GREEKS, AND ROMANS, JESUS BEGINS HIS MINISTRY BY PROCLAIMING THE EXACT SAME WORDS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST; “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR.” RATHER THAN WITHDRAWING, JESUS IS SAYING TO HEROD, AND TO ALL, “YOU MAY HAVE STOPPED JOHN, BUT YOU CAN NOT STOP ME.”

THE NEXT THING JESUS DOES IS TO GATHER HIS DISCIPLES. THE NARRATIVE OF THE CALLING OF SIMON, ANDREW, JAMES AND JOHN IS SO FAMILIAR TO US THAT WE ALL CAN PROBABLY RECITE IT FROM MEMORY OF OUR DAYS IN SUNDAY SCHOOL. IT IS, HOWEVER, A REVERSAL OF HOW ONE BECAME A DISCIPLE OF A RABBI, OR TEACHER, AT THAT TIME. ONE WOULD BEG A RABBI TO BE ALLOWED TO BE TAUGHT BY HIM, AND HE MIGHT EVEN TEST YOU TO SEE IF YOU WERE WORTHY. INSTEAD, JESUS CALLS OUT TO THESE ROUGH FISHERMEN TO FOLLOW HIM, AND THEY IMMEDIATELY DROP WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND FOLLOW.

THERE ARE MANY THEORIES AS TO WHY THEY FOLLOWED JESUS SO READILY, BUT THE MOST LIKELY IS THAT THEY WERE AT THE JORDAN WHEN JOHN POINTED TO JESUS AS THE LAMB OF GOD. SO WHEN JESUS CALLED THEM TO STOP FISHING AND BECOME FISHERS OF PEOPLE, THEY LITERALLY DROPPED WHAT THEY WERE DOING, LEFT THEIR FAMILIES, AND FOLLOWED HIM.

UNTIL RECENTLY, I HAD ASSUMED THAT SIMON, ANDREW, JAMES AND JOHN WERE FISHING IN A FREE MARKET ECONOMY, BUT, AFTER SOME DEEPER RESEARCH, I HAVE DISCOVERED THAT WHAT THEY WERE ENGAGED IN WAS MORE LIKE SEMI-SLAVE LABOR. GALILEE WAS FISHED IN AN INDUSTRIAL MANNER; ALL FOR THE BENEFIT OF CAESAR, HEROD, AND THE URBAN ELITE. THE FISH WERE OWNED BY SOMEONE ELSE BEFORE THEY WERE EVEN PULLED OUT OF THE WATER. FISHING LEASES WERE SOLD TO FAMILY GROUPS BY THE STATE. BOATS WERE LEASED BY THE STATE; OR, IF THEY WERE PRIVATELY OWNED, THE OWNERS WERE IN HOCK TO THE TAX MAN FOR THE COST OF THE BOAT, THE NETS, AND ALL THE EQUIPMENT; PLUS INTEREST. ONCE ASHORE, THE FISH WERE TAXED AT THE PROCESSING CENTER ON THE BEACH, AND THEN TAXED AGAIN AT THE POINT OF SALE. IT IS NO WONDER, THEN, THAT THE SUBJECTS OF MONEY AND DEBT ARE SO PROMINENT IN THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS.

BECAUSE OF THIS ECONOMICALLY OPPRESSIVE SYSTEM, FISHERMEN WERE JUST ABOVE SHEPHERDS ON THE BOTTOM OF THE SOCIAL SCALE. SO WHEN JESUS CALLED THEM TO FOLLOW HIM, HE WAS CALLING THEM OUT FROM THE LOCKED IN RELATIONSHIPS OF AN OPPRESSIVE SYSTEM TO A NEW RELATIONSHIP OF FREEDOM BASED ON A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM. THEY WERE THE FIRST OF THOSE WHO WERE CALLED OUT, THE ECCLESSIA, AND WERE THE TEMPLATE FOR ALL OTHERS WHO ARE CALLED OUT FROM WHAT LOCKS THEM INTO A LIFE OF SLAVERY TO A LIFE OF FREEDOM IN JESUS.

TO THE RICH AND POWERFUL, THE RULERS OF THIS WORLD, JESUS SAYS, “YOU CAN NOT STOP ME.” TO THE POOR, THE BROKEN, THE HELPLESS, THE DESPISED, JESUS SAYS, “FOLLOW ME: I WILL SHOW YOU THAT WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS NOT FISH, BUT PEOPLE.” THE CALL OF JESUS TO THOSE FIRST DISCIPLES IS THE SAME AS HIS CALL TO THE DISCIPLES OF TODAY; AND WE HAVE ALL HEARD THAT CALL OR WE WOULD NOT BE HERE TODAY. THE CALL IS ALWAYS TO COME OUT FROM WHAT HOLDS US IN BONDAGE INTO THE FREEDOM OF A NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH EACH OTHER BASED SOLELY ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM; AND, SO, WE ARE THE CHURCH, THOSE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD TO LIVE IN THE WORLD IN A NEW AND DIFFERENT WAY – THE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

NOT ALL OF US ARE CALLED TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW JESUS, ALTHOUGH SOME OF US ARE; WHICH IS WHY WE WEAR THESE STRANGE LOOKING SLAVE COLLARS. YET WE ARE ALL CALLED TO RELATE TO THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY. WE ARE NO LONGER HELD IN SERVITUDE BY MONEY, DEBT, POWER, ADDICTION, SIN, BROKEN FAMILIES, OR ANY OTHER FORM OF BONDAGE, AND OUR RELATIONSHIP TO ALL THINGS AND ALL PEOPLE IS ALWAYS FILTERED THROUGH OUR RELATIONSHIP TO JESUS. THROUGH HIM, WHO DIED TO MAKE US THE PEOPLE OF GOD, ALL THAT WE HAVE AND ALL THAT WE ARE IS OFFERED UP IN SERVICE TO GOD FOR THE WORK OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

THAT IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THE CHURCH, THE ECCLESSIA; CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD TO FOLLOW JESUS.
AMEN

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