3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Matthew 4:12-23
(Third Sunday after the Epiphany)
analysis by Mike Hoy

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 Napthali, 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.

DIAGNOSIS: Ordinary People

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Staying Put
There is here an ending and a beginning-an ending first. John the Baptist’s ministry has come to an end, and now Jesus is beginning his ministry (v. 12, 13). But there are many others who might well prefer to stay put, right where they are, not adjusting the events of their lives-fishing, mending nets, and the like. Being ordinary and blending in with the crowd, rather than being extraordinarily visible, is also safer. Remember the reason that John the Baptist’s ministry has come to an end-the powers and principalities that be had just about enough of his voice in the wilderness.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Sitting in Darkness
But staying put does not necessarily help to cast any light on our situation. And that points to a deeper malady, a problem in our spiritual being. In a world that is already darkened by its day-in-day-out oppressiveness, people begin to believe that real security is in staying out of the light. The concept of “sitting in darkness” (v. 16) is an allusion not only to behavior, but also to the spirituality of the heart. Our heart has stopped beating with passion; it only beats in time with the darkness.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: In the Shadow of Death
Consider also, though, that for all our own ordinariness in this there is also the reality of what might also be construed as just as ordinary: death. But when death has its say (as, indeed, it does for all of us), its shadow of finality closes us out (v. 17). There is no safe haven from its effects. Still, why be coy, even about death? For in the final analysis, it is God who uses death’s shadow on us all as God’s taking seriously our preference for darkness.

PROGNOSIS: People with New Beginnings

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Recovering
The light’s first dawn is in Galilee in the region of John and Jesus; and for us, our first Light also comes from Galilee. In the newly beginning ministry of Jesus, the Light shines over those who have sat in darkness and in the shadow of death (vs. 16, 17). And it brings healing and a new, good Word (v. 23) that would itself (himself) experience darkness and death, precisely for daring to be so bold as to shine. Yet shine it/he did, even in that dark moment, and he would shine more gloriously in the fullness of the resurrection dawn. Who says death is final? Not the Light, nor does God who has sent this Light out into the darkened world.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Repenting
The Light invites us to turn from the darkness, to turn instead to the new beginnings that are “near” to us in “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 17). Once we have seen how this light is not deterred or destroyed by the finalities of death and judgment, it can have immediate results in sparking new hope for us, so much so that we are ready to leave the ordinariness of life behind in favor of Jesus the Christ’s extraordinary brilliance (vs. 20, 22). That is what Jesus hoped in his call for us to “repent”-and his visible presence is the reason repenting is so inviting.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Following/Fishing
Yet when we have that new brightness in our spirit, it does not remove us into an extraordinary world. No, it sends us back into that world to be “fishing for people” (v. 19). But that is precisely what makes such ordinary characters like Peter, Andrew, James, John, you and me stand out as extraordinary. In our ordinary fishing for people day-in-day-out, we are also following a new, revitalizing Lord. And we are risking the venture of coming out from where we were, or where we would otherwise be were it not for the extraordinary power of our faith. Perhaps we do it in such subtle ways that not everyone would notice. But then again, maybe they might!


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