Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 26, Third after Epiphany, Children of Light #8: Disruption

Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1, 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus takes up the announcement of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” That’s general. And then he makes it personal. He summons Simon and Andrew. He knew them already as followers of John the Baptist, who was now arrested, which maybe had confused them and doubtless disheartened them, and it’s no wonder they respond so eagerly to the summons.

The summons includes the hint of a commission: “I will make you fishers of people.” Which metaphor is strange, if you push it, because fishermen are enemies of fish; no fish ever agrees with having been caught. Or is there a hint that salvation has some death, some disruption, some repentance? He summons James and John as well, and just as quick they leave their father in the lurch and go with Jesus. The four of them have been fished and are caught themselves.

What about their wives and children? “Sorry kids, no fish tonight.” Such a disruption in their lives. A new kingdom has arrived and exercised eminent domain and imposed the draft, and for their families the disruption is a forced repentance. On Sabbath days their families have worship without them, because on Fridays they go with Jesus up into the hills. Every week another village, arriving at sundown, sharing in somebody’s sabbas meal, socializing overnight, sleeping on some rug, going to synagogue on Saturday morning, preaching and teaching, sharing some food, healing the people, then back home to Capernaum. “Well, well, isn't it swell to have you back!”

The announcement of Jesus was the same as John the Baptist’s, but Jesus shifted the meaning, and put more stress on the second part: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” With John, you had to go down to the river and repent, to get clean and ready for the kingdom soon to come. With Jesus the kingdom has come, ready or not, and he took it from the lake-shore up to the people on their dry hills, in their ordinary lives, and to receive that kingdom and to live within it is the repentance.

In this sense, the calling of the four fisherman is atypical and for their specific job. More typical is that the people remained in their villages and occupations. Jesus was teaching them within their habitations how to inhabit the kingdom that was there. The healings were the sign that the kingdom had come, their deep significance was liberation.

In their villages, not in Jerusalem. In Galilee, not in Judea. In The Bronx, not Manhattan. In the north, in the region of the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali, the borderlands of Lebanon and Syria, a region that has always been a battlefield, one army after another marching through, pillaging their crops and ravaging their women. A region of Jews in poverty, and of Gentile settlers controlling the means of production. The Jews were in depression, and they felt like exiles in their own land.

The Jewish revolutionaries were headquartered in Galilee because it was less controlled than Judea. Jesus had more freedom here to develop his campaign. Had he announced in Jerusalem that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, he might have been arrested too. Galilee was also a better venue for Jesus’ new version of the kingdom of heaven.

He didn't bring it as a kingdom of independence but of interaction. It’s not for isolation but engagement. It’s not for ridding your life of enemies but for loving your enemies close at hand. It’s not for getting rid of troubles, but for dealing with your troubles. It’s not the bright light of the noontime, but the light that shines within the darkness. The kingdom of heaven is for the mixed-up reality of your lives. It’s the light that shines before you to help you find your way. It’s the light that shines on your skin to give you courage.

He did not summon priests or scribes or soldiers, but ordinary working guys. And unlike with John the Baptist, who waited for people to come to him, as these guys had done the first time, here the Lord Jesus comes after them, right in the midst of their ordinary lives. And they have to deal with the disruption. Following Jesus is not magic. It’s usually in fits and starts, with gaps and hesitations, and with doubts and disappointments. That is your experience as well.

Following Jesus is just not a sudden simple thing or one nice gradual evolution. You get an experience wherein you notice God. And then there is a gap, and you wonder if it was real, and if anything has really changed. Maybe it was just your own wishful thinking. The voice of God is never discrete from your own self-enclosed experience. But then something happens or somebody says something that takes you further, and you feel called again. Now God is asking more of you, a greater measure of devotion, God is calling on you to something which is costly and disruptive. It’s liberating, but is it worth it? And then there’s more. And he says, “Follow me.”

That’s open-ended. You’d like to know first where he’s going. Why not just tell me where we’re going, give me the directions, and I’ll go straight there on my own? Why not just tell me what I need to repent of? I don’t mind repenting, just tell me what I did wrong, and I’ll be sorry and I’ll address it. Nope. Open-ended. Liberated.

You are called to freedom. And that means disruption, because freedom is always a disruption. But your life is full of disruptions anyway, though they are milder and less dangerous than the disruptions of their lives in Galilee then or Syria now. You manage your disruptions all the time, and you choose among them. To choose for certain disruptions is the meaning of repentance and discipleship. It’s all part of a single package. The kingdom is what Jesus brings, and to receive it is repentance, and to explore it is discipleship, and to embody it is healing.

It is both liberating and disruptive because everything is on the table. There are not some parts of your life which are in the kingdom of God and other parts which are exempt. Every action, every possession, every relationship, every interest, every issue, every dollar, everything you think or hope or say, it all belongs to the kingdom of God. For everything you need instruction, in everything you need healing, in everything you need forgiveness, for everything you need repentance.

Repentance here is not that you are feeling bad or sorry, but total receptivity, allowing everything on the table, including self-examination. I’m talking about freedom even from yourself. And that’s disruption. To let go of your nets is nothing compared to letting go of your image of yourself.

How did God call you? What were you doing when you heard that voice that brought you here? What did it sound like? The voice of God that called you was hidden in some other voice, some other thought, some other consideration. Maybe an itch you had. Maybe a vague feeling that you needed to do something, make a small change, maybe simplify your life, or maybe add some complication. You thought, I need some more religion in my life, some more spirituality, or some healing, or some ethical inspiration. These were your own thoughts in your own head.

I’m telling you that behind your thoughts was the calling of God. I’m saying that in, with, and under your thoughts, though indistinguishable from your thoughts, and indiscernible to any objective examination, except your own imagination, I’m saying that God is calling you to follow this strange character, this Jesus.

How do you determine which calls you answer on your phone? When my blackberry rings I check to see if it’s a name in my address book, and if not, I don’t pick up. They can leave a message and I might call back. Of course I’ve got ring-tones for people I always answer and ring-tones to warn me of people I don’t. How do you know it is God calling you?

You can tell, if it requires some new learning.
You can tell, if it requires some repentance, some self-examination and some disruption of yourself.
You can tell, if it means some liberation, some freedom.
You can tell, if that freedom and liberation is directed towards healing and wholeness and reconciliation and community.

God is giving you the knowledge you need to choose among your disruptions.
God gives you the light to make your way through the darkness.
God gives you companions to walk along with you to help you and affirm you and listen along with you.

You can tell, if the single word summery for it is Love.

Copyright © 2014, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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