Monday, January 23, 2017

Epiphany 3A

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.
So far in Matthew:

Genealogy / Jesus' birth / magi – astrologers – royalty from different religion, different part of the world show us Jesus and the gospel is for everyone everywhere / Joseph's dream that Herod plans to kill all baby boys under the age of 2 / Joseph, Mary, Jesus go to Egypt and live as refugees until Herod's death / Joseph, Mary, Jesus return to their own country and settle in Nazareth / John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River that for Israel formed the boundary and border between their old life of slavery and wandering in the desert and their new life of obedience in covenanted community in the promised land.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all bring us Jesus' temptations in the wilderness after his baptism. We read and hear those scriptures at the beginning of the season of Lent that's a time of reflection for us.

Now we have Jesus' first act of public ministry according to Matthew.

Matthew emphasizes Jesus' connections with Moses, with David, with the whole people of God we meet in the Hebrew scriptures. Matthew 4:12-16 closely connects with today's first reading, Isaiah 9:1-4. Zebulun and Naphtali designate land God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:18-21), Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and Jacob (Genesis 28:13), showed to Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-4), land Joshua assigned (Zebulun – 19:10-16; Naphtali –19:32-39). The ascriptions for the tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 tell us Zebulun dwelt by the sea and would be a haven for ships (49:13); Naphtali was a doe bearing lovely young fawns—a feminine image (49:21). These names frame land as God's gift on loan to humanity, as covenanted place and space. God tells us land is not alienable, not a "property" we can sell. Matthew's community recorded this gospel account after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, yet by the time Jesus got there, imperial Rome already occupied Capernaum. Rome controlled land and sea; Rome controlled every aspect of the local economy, of everyone's lives and livelihoods. For First Isaiah, Galilee of the gentiles referred to the area's ethnic diversity; by the time of Matthew's writing, "Galilee of the gentiles" also includes another Herod, Rome's puppet governor Herod Antipas.

Jesus has journeyed 80 miles from the site of his baptism! Capernaum was a backwater, working-class town, not a standard metropolitan statistical area.

We've met Jesus' cousin John the Baptist with his message "Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" Now Jesus repeats John's words, but Jesus is the embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven—"the Reign of Heaven is here and now!"

Matthew says Kingdom of Heaven rather than Kingdom of God because of the Jewish proscription against speaking G-d's name. Kingdom can be reign, rule, sovereignty. We can speak about the empire of heaven! I like the concepts culture of heaven, lifestyle of heaven: during Jesus' time and during our time, a very different way of being and of acting than the typical usual mainstream amidst the imperial reign of the Roman Empire, in the midst of the imperial reign of trans-national corporations, controlled behind the scenes financial markets that favor the rich who will become "filthy rich," even amid the sometimes compelling imperial reign of consumerism. As happens with many colonials subjected, Jesus uses similar words and vocabulary to the dominant imperial cultures but gives them a new, subversive meaning.

Was this Jesus' very first encounter ever with the two pairs of brothers? Probably! Jesus' presence was so compelling and charismatic... and offered them an alternative, a different way of being and of living.

After calling both pairs of brothers as his first act of public ministry, "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." Jesus announced the reign of heaven; he told them and he showed them. As in most marginal economies, food was scarce under imperial Rome. People didn't always have safe, clean water. In a workforce dominated by physical labor, illness prevented people from working, further impoverishing them (well, of course!).

Both Matthew and Luke report John the Baptist in prison asking his followers to ask his cousin Jesus, "are you the one who is to come, or do we need to look for someone else?" Jesus replies, "Go and tell John what you see and here: blind see; lame walk; deaf hear; lepers get clean skin; dead get raised to new life; the poor have the good news of the gospel reached to them (that hopefully they can hear a lot better with their restored hearing).

Backtracking earlier in today's gospel text, Matthew picks up Isaiah's "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." We currently are in the season of epiphany within the church's year of grace. This section or installment of ordinary (ordered, structured) time emphasizes Jesus as light, as revelation to everyone everywhere, that reminds us Israel's God YHWH was God of all, God for all, not exclusively Israel's.

Discussion of sources and uses of light. You don't need much to see a lot! Even the glow of a single small candle can fill a very dark place. First light signals the start of a new day that will progressively become brighter. Us as light? We receive a lighted candle at baptism.

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