A new sermon for Sunday, 22nd January 2023
A sermon on the Gospel reading for Sunday, 22nd January 2023, Saint Matthew Chapter 4 Verses 12-23.
How many times have the verses of today’s Gospel reading been read in church? Anyone who is a regular attender at Sunday worship has probably heard them hundreds of times, yet how often has anyone ever stopped to look at the places mentioned?
In more than thirty years of parish ministry, I do not recall that I ever preached on the places named by Saint Matthew. Why not? I’m not sure.
Sitting at home, with no responsibility to preach to anyone, there is an opportunity to look at the things I overlooked for so long.
If Saint Matthew includes the placenames, it is reasonable to assume that he had a purpose in doing so.
In Verse 12, Saint Matthew writes, ‘Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee’.
John has been preaching in the desert of Judea and baptizing people in the river Jordan. John has been popular, people have gone out from Jerusalem and gathered from the surrounding areas of Judea to hear his preaching. John has denounced corruption and wrongdoing and has offended the wrong people. Arrested and imprisoned, he is executed at a drunken whim of Herod.
No explanation of Jesus’ thoughts is given. He has not yet gained the fame that would follow him, yet he obviously feels a need to go to somewhere safer, he obviously senses that he should move further from Jerusalem.
Jerusalem and the province of Judea are to the south, Galilee is to the north, between them lies the province of Samaria, the home of the Samaritans, the home of a community of people who were hostile to the Jews.
Jesus’ home town has been Nazareth, on the northern edge of Samaria, but he feels the need to move from there, Saint Matthew says, (in Verse 13), ‘He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.’
Why does he move? We know from elsewhere that the people of Nazareth were not receptive to what he said. Is it the case that he is simply moving to a place where people will listen to him, or is there something more?
In these verses from Saint Matthew Chapter 4, are we being given an insight into the humanity of Jesus? Are we being given an understanding of someone who knows what it means to be alone and to be vulnerable?
Jesus ‘withdrew to Galilee’, Jesus ‘left Nazareth: Jesus has retreated to a place of safety, he knows what it likes to face danger, he knows what it is like to face hostility.
Do Christians give thought to what life really meant for Jesus? Do they try to understand the emotions he experienced? Or does the human Jesus disappear behind the divine Jesus?
He made his home In Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee. It would seem likely that Jesus knew this place, that he had been there before. In Capernaum, there was a welcome, there were people open to what he said.
Beside the sea, Jesus finds his first disciples. Fishermen were hard-headed people, they had to be if they were going to make a living, they had to be in order to survive. When Jesus goes down to the shore and the first disciples leave their former lives to go with him, it seems likely that this was not their first meeting. Perhaps they had heard him speaking before, perhaps they had talked before.
Do Christians think about what may have passed through the minds of those fishermen? What expectations had they? Could they have imagined the things that would happen?
Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience. He wishes to explain to those who hear his words what is the significance of this move to the north, how Jesus withdrawal and change of home was something that fulfilled Scripture. Saint Matthew says that this move was ‘so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.’
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali’: the symbolism of the words Saint Matthew quotes from Isaiah is easily lost on people listening to the Gospel today.
Zebulun and Naphtali were the two most northern tribes. When the kingdom that had been united under King David and King Solomon split into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were part of the kingdom of Israel. When the Assyrians invaded in 721 BC, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to be lost.
It is in the places that were the first to be lost to invaders, the places first to be conquered, that Jesus begins his ministry.
Does the commencement of his ministry in places remembered as being lost, places that were remote, not say something to Christians today? Isn’t it time that Christians followed the example of Jesus? Isn’t it time that the people who matter are those who are out on the edge? Isn’t it time that the church went out to those who are far away? Is it that the church can’t engage with people on the outside, or is it that it doesn’t want to do so?
A new sermon for Sunday, 22nd January 2023 — No Comments
HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>