The Message, January 22, 2023: "Let it Shine!" Matthew 4:12-23

The Message, January 22, 2023: "Let it Shine!" Matthew 4:12-23

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
January 24, 2023


“Let it Shine!”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Matthew 4:12-23

            It is a familiar story …. The Call of the Disciples. No doubt you have read it, or heard it preached, numerous times. In fact, those of you who were here last Sunday, or those who watched online, may recall that we explored this story just last week. Of course, that was John’s account of the call. And as we pointed out, John’s account is very different than those we find in the other three gospels.

            So, since this is a familiar story, we have the opportunity to explore it a little bit deeper this morning. Let us begin with the setting … Galilee of the Gentiles.

            We have heard the name “Galilee” numerous times, but have we heard “…of the Gentiles” attached to it? What does that mean? Why was it called that? Was it a territory filled with Gentile heathens? Yes and no. Galilee was surrounded by Gentiles. They had the Phoenicians to the west, the Syrians to the north and east, and the Samaritans to the east and south. And it was also a very diverse population. Because the region had been conquered and reconquered throughout the generations, remnants of the various occupiers remained.

            Galilee also had a very dense population. The land was very fertile. In fact, that was one of the things that surprised me the most when I traveled to Israel. The northern territory is very green and lush. Therefore, there was a lot of farming in the region. There were numerous trade routes to and from Galilee. There was an ancient saying that said that “Galilee was on the road to everywhere.”

            Because of the diversity of the population, the territory was also very fertile ground for new ideas. The people were passionate and hard-working, and they were willing to try to new things.

            In addition to all of that, Galilee happened to be far away from the paranoid and watchful eyes of King Herod. Galilee was the perfect place for Jesus to begin his public ministry.

            Matthew, more than any of the other Gospel writers, tied the life and ministry of Jesus to the words of the prophets. He did so in this morning’s passage. He shared these words from the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

            And in the opening verse of this passage, he gave us an indication of the darkness: “When Jesus heard that John (the Baptist) had been put in prison.” John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned, and ultimately put to death, because he spoke out against King Herod. Herod had seduced and married his brother’s wife, after Herod had had his own wife put to death.

            Not only was Matthew marking the time when Jesus began his ministry, he was also giving us an example of just how dark their world had become. John’s courage and his conviction to his ministry resulted in his death. We also know that the people lived under the crushing and oppressive rule of the Roman Empire.

            They lived in darkness. Their lives were miserable. They needed light. And we know that they had received the light that we proclaimed on Christmas Eve. Finally, they had seen a great light! Their light had dawned! The light born thirty years prior began to shine!

            And Jesus began his public ministry by asking the people to do something that we may find surprising. He told them to ‘Repent!’ “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

            As Jesus made that proclamation, the people may have been saying, “Ummm … excuse me, Jesus? Us repent? What about King Herod repent? What about the emperor repent? Why us? What have we done wrong?!”

            Let us explore what Jesus meant. The Kingdom of heaven has come near. The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and the ‘Kingdom of God’ are synonymous, they refer to the same thing. Matthew used the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ out of respect for the name of God which was not to be spoken. But what Jesus was saying was that the time of the reign of God was coming.

            The people that were being ruled by a pagan emperor and an unworthy king whose family had been installed by that pagan empire, would finally realize the hope and promise of living in a land ruled by God. Jesus was offering the message of hope that the rule of God was about to be established.

            But why did the people need to repent? Good question. I am glad that you asked. We often have negative connotations associated with the words “repent.” It calls to mind street corner preachers screaming about the end of the world. But in Jesus’ day, and within the ancient Hebrew tradition, “repent” was not a word that was sued to make people feel badly about themselves. It was not intended to cause sorrow or remorse. “Repent” meant to ‘change direction,’ ‘turn around,’ ‘turn toward God.’

            The problem was that many of Jesus’ contemporaries were looking for revolution. They were looking for a fight. They were seeking to overthrow violence with violence of their own. They were going to fight darkness with darkness.

            So, Jesus told them, “Repent. That is not the way. Turn around. Go the other way. Turn toward the Way of God. Turn toward the Way of Light. Turn toward the Way of Peace.” Light is the Way. Love is the Way. Those who work for the Kingdom of Heaven … the Kingdom of God serve the Light. They shine!

            All of that is the context for what happened next … the Call of the Disciples; the call of those who would follow Jesus Christ and the Way of Light.

            As Jesus walked through that wonderfully fertile and lush territory, as he walked through that very diverse population, he came upon a group of fishermen. Just as the angel in Luke’s account of the Nativity appeared to a group of ordinary shepherds, Jesus began gathering his disciples with a group of ordinary fishermen.

            Unlike the first disciples in John’s account last week, those men were not searching for anything. They were not out actively looking for the Messiah. They were making an honest day’s wage to support their families and their community. They were not wealthy, but they were not necessarily poor. They may or may not have been educated. They were people that were willing to work long, tedious, back-breaking hours. They were willing to be patient. They were willing to persevere knowing that not every haul of the nets would yield a catch.

            Jesus invited them to give it all up and follow him. Give up laboring morning to night. Give up the back-breaking work of hauling nets. Give up the tedious work of cleaning and repairing the nets. Give it all up and follow a complete stranger … a wandering preacher. Surely that would be a lot easier than fishing!

            But how do you give it up? How do you give up the only life that you have known? How do you give up the work that supports your family? How do you give up the security of knowing exactly what you are doing, even if it is hard and unpleasant?

            How did Jesus get them to follow? How does Jesus get US to follow?

            When I was in seminary, the vast majority of my fellow students were second-career students. They had worked as teachers, lawyers, engineers … every field imaginable … and had responded to the call of Jesus.

            What is it about Jesus that compels people to say, “Yes! I will follow you!”?

            Jesus Christ offers us a message of hope. He offers a message of Good News. He promises us that no matter how dark the world around us may seem, there is light. No matter how oppressive the world may seem, there is freedom. No matter how angry or violent the world may seem there is peace. And he invites us to come and be a part of a community that is based upon love and justice. He invites us to work for a kin-dom based upon kindness and compassion. He invites us to be light.

            He called those first disciples to be followers. There is no language that indicates that he called them to be “apostles” … preachers or teachers. Some of them … some of us … might decide to become teachers or preachers. But Jesus simply asked them to follow. Just as he calls us to follow.

            He calls us in the professions that we have. He calls us in the work that we do and in the lives that we live. He does not call us to give it all up. Rather, he calls us to use our lives to work for the kin-dom of God.

            In our work … we possess that Spirit of God.
            In a world of darkness … we shine with the Light of God.
            In a world of anger and violence … we embody peace.
            In a world of hate … we offer love.

            In a world where some may sit passively by and wait for others to serve and to follow, we are called to shine! May we shine brightly! Amen.


Congregational Church