26 January 2014

Matthew 4:12-23

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (verse 17)


Formerly a protégé and partner of John the Baptist, and sharing the same mission (verse 17 is identical to Matthew 3:2), Jesus now strikes out on his own, opening a new chapter. John's arrest had triggered this move. Jesus relocated from central Palestine to Galilee in the north; and from his Jewish family enclave in Nazareth (in middle Galilee) to set up his headquarters in Capernaum (on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee).

Matthew saw this as hugely significant. Jesus'strategy was a fulfilment of the ancient Scriptures (verses 15-16 cite Isaiah 9:1-2). Moreover, Capernaum was a largely Gentile (non-Jewish) environment. What was afoot was for the whole world - for Gentiles and for Jews. (So, from his Capernaum base, Jesus travelled to Jewish synagogues throughout Galilee.).

And the heart of Jesus' mission? Through the words and actions of Jesus, a spiritual gift of extraordinary grace compellingly engaged the hearts of people as they went about their everyday lives. They felt unconditionally invited into life in a new dimension. It was to be grounded on justice and love alone - and would admit of no compromises. It promised incalculable possibilities for the future. ("The kingdom of heaven has come near.")

Authentically to respond to Jesus' call meant stepping forward in a new direction. The kingdom was for those who would surrender control of their lives and commit themselves to Jesus' values and to their unpredictable consequences. Such 'repentance' must be linked to 'discipleship'. So they must embark on a steep learning curve, with Jesus as mentor and guide ("Follow me" (v. 19)).

In practice, as the four Capernaum-based fishermen found, this could mean breaking free of the culture of family and daily work in order to share in Jesus' mission. Though their new lives would utilise their skills and experience - in new ways ("I will make you fish for people" (v. 19)).

To Ponder

  • In your experience, are there tensions between the claims of Christian discipleship and the demands of family life? If so, how are they best resolved?
  • From your point of view, how do you strike a balance between needing a congregation that is familiar, reliable and free of surprises and sharing in a congregation which constantly invites exploration of new forms of worship and mission?
  • Who or what best supports you when, as a Christian, you feel obliged to meet people with whom you do not feel at ease, or to undertake responsibilities which may take you outside your comfort zone?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.