First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Epiphany 3

William Loader

Epiphany 3:  26 January  Matthew 4:12-23

This text follows immediately on the temptation story and forms the introduction to the great block of material in 4:23 - 9:34, which includes the Sermon on the Mount, 5-7, and the collection of Jesus' deeds (8:1 - 9:34). The summary in 4:23 is repeated in 9:35, forming a framework around the whole complex. 4:12-23 begins by following Mark, who, after his much shorter account of the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew' version draws primarily on Q material), goes on to speak of John's arrest and Jesus' departure for Galilee where he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom. Matthew has supplemented Mark's material. He adds that Jesus left Nazareth (see 2:23) for Capernaum and connects it to a citation of Isaiah 8:23 - 9:1, which speaks of Galilee of the Gentiles. Matthew is connecting Jesus' move already with what will become the Gentile mission. The theme already appeared in the genealogy and in the coming of the magi. From perhaps needing to justify Jesus' emergence from Galilee Matthew has turned it into a virtue.

Notice that the summary of Jesus' proclamation, 'Repent; the kingdom of heaven is at hand' is drawn from Mark 1:15, but has already been placed on the lips of John the Baptist in 3:2. The result is that here it carries associations it had in John's preaching, especially the theme of judgement. The call of the disciples 4:18-22 mirrors Mark 1:16-20 with little variation. These are classic stories of call to discipleship. These disciples will also be commissioned to proclaim the same message in 10:7.

Following Jesus was already a metaphor by the time the evangelists were writing, but behind it is an actual following, an actual abandonment of occupation and family to follow, travel with, Jesus. Not all who responded to Jesus positively received such a call. But it was given to some, who were not thereby superior to those who remained devoted to God's will and stayed with their families and occupations. There is, here, the beginnings of different kinds of callings, which are reflected historically in the ministry of the ordained and the ministry of laity - in a very broad sense.

The stories also make a statement about dominant values. Jesus creates social dislocation by placing the challenge of the kingdom ahead of family and work loyalties. Local systems of work and family were crucial for security and the fabric of society. Jesus' challenge sets these priorities aside, not in principle and not for everyone, but nevertheless in a way that relativises them. There is something great, more fundamental, than family and the local economy. To challenge these is to take a real risk, but for many people, real growth will never happen until they can make such a move. The same applies to communities and congregations: local conditions and loyalties can replace the God of the kingdom, so that congregations serve something other than the kingdom, abandoning the radical agenda which challenges us to call into question the dominant values of family and economy.

It is interesting that Matthew is not prepared to start with his story of Jesus proper without first identifying those who will carry it on. They, indeed, will be among those who bring its light into dark places in and beyond Galilee. The great commission of 28:18-20 is a fine commentary on this chapter. What the devil offered, authority over all nations, the Father has now given, not for power but for mission and service and that service has at its heart the message of the kingdom and as its servants not only Jesus but those whom he will commission and those commissioned by them in succeeding generations.

Fishing, like the image of the mustard seed, frequently has negative tones; here, not so; but the unfamiliar usage would have jolted hearers to something very distinctive happening here. It is not scalp hunting but seeking out people to follow, in the way that Jesus has sought out the disciples, engaging them in the vision and agenda of the kingdom which will widen their horizons taking them into dark and unfamiliar places, but with light and compassion.

Epistle: Epiphany 3:  26 January  1 Corinthians 1:10-18

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