Meditation on Matthew 4:12–23
Jan. 26, 2020
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the 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.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As 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. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
23 Jesus 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.
On Friday morning, I woke up to the sound of rain. It was time to get up and have devotions with the Lord, but what I really wanted was to go back to sleep. Did any of you feel like that on Friday? The cat had me up several times that night and I felt really worn out.
One of my devotions that morning was from Joni Eareckson Tada’s A Spectacle of Glory: God’s Light Shining Through Me Every Day. Joni, paralyzed from the neck down since a diving accident many years ago, is founder and CEO of Joni and Friends.
The Christian organization seeks to minister to people with disabilities and their families. Joni’s devotion for Jan. 24 began,
“When you don’t walk, your shoes never wear out. My shoes can last me 10 years or more and still look brand-new. The soles that have never touched dirt, gravel, pavement or even carpet stay pristine. …But the truth is, even though my shoes may not get a lot of mileage, my wheelchair logs countless miles. Traveling isn’t easy for me, but the Lord has sent me to visit more than 50 countries with the gospel of peace. Whatever inconvenience, difficulty, hardship, or physical and emotional wear and tear we experience to bring the story of Jesus to others is worth it a thousand times over.”
Her grateful heart and humble prayer stirred me to change my attitude. I was reminded that God wants to use me for ministry every day, and presents opportunities if I am willing to obey. The call to follow Jesus doesn’t just come once in a lifetime or on the days we feel like doing God’s will. It is a commitment to love and serve Christ for all of our days.
I prayed with Joni, “Lord Jesus, I would love the privilege to speak for You today.”
The Lord would answer my prayer and grant me joy as I followed Him. I was due to be with the second graders at Coshocton Elementary at 9, reading aloud to Mrs. Yost’s class and listening to children read in Mr. Gill’s. I actually arrived before 9, miracle of miracles, and some of the kids in Mrs. Yost’s class were really surprised! One said, “You’re here already?? It’s not even 9!”
“Yes!” I answered. “Do you want me to leave and come back?!”
My change in attitude opened me to see and respond to ministry moments that I might not otherwise have seen. One was in Mrs. Yost’s class, when a little girl came up to me and just stood silently in front of me for a long moment. I asked her if something was wrong. She shook her head and said, “Thank you for the scarf and hat that you gave me for Christmas.” I thought for a moment, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember giving her or anyone in her class a gift! But then it dawned on me! I said, “You’re welcome.” She was one of the children who got off the bus that day before Christmas break when Sharon Sutton, Judy Ogle, and I were waiting at the entrance to Chestnut Crossing apartments with goodie bags, Christmas cards, and scarves and hats crocheted by Betty Salvage; 30 or more children were blessed that day.
This little girl, standing right in front of me, quietly and simply expressing her gratitude, was God’s way of teaching me to trust Him and obey his call, no matter how I felt.
“See how I use you and the Church to touch hearts and lives—for my sake? Follow me and you will fish for people.”
Don’t you wonder what these first disciples, two brothers who are fishermen working on the Sea of Galilee, are thinking when they respond immediately to the one who says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” ? What stirs them to leave their nets, family, and family business behind? Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother, aren’t the only fishermen called that day. Two more brothers—James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are mending their nets, leave their boat and their father to follow him, too.
Can you imagine the dinner conversation that night as Zebedee tries to explain to his wife what has happened with their two sons—and the family business? I can just see Mrs. Zebedee saying, “Now, what are we going to do?” The boys have taken off with this stranger from Nazareth, who had settled in their town—Capernaum–by the sea. The event that moves him to leave his hometown and call the 12 is when John the Baptist is arrested.
Do the fishermen know the fullness of their call? Do they know the depth of their sacrifice? Probably not. But they will join the Messiah in calling people to repentance, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and revealing it through deeds of power and love. Just imagine if everyone in Coshocton were cured of “every disease and every sickness” today? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
The call comes in God’s timing, and the disciples are compelled. For it is God’s desire to use them for His work. This will require a change in their focus, no longer living as individuals, families and clans, according to their culture. They are called to live as a new, Christ-centered community, nurturing relationships with God and each other, reaching out with the good news, “The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Like the first disciples, we, too, are ordinary folks living in uncertain times, caring for our families and working hard to provide for them. We, too, most urgently sense this call to love and serve the Lord and reveal the Kingdom in this place. We know this IS the will of God, and that God gave us this desire. But we, too, struggle to keep our gaze on Christ, especially when our own needs and the needs of our families are felt so keenly.
I want to assure you that this passage isn’t saying that the Lord doesn’t care about our problems or that caring for our families shouldn’t be important to us. Our families are our first ministries. Following the Lord doesn’t mean abandoning your responsibilities at home. So, what can we learn from today’s passage about the call of the first disciples to help us answer Christ’s call today?
The key, to me, is when Simon Peter and Andrew let go of the nets, immediately, in response to Christ’s invitation. Jesus doesn’t tell them to let go of the nets, without which, they couldn’t make a living. They do it because they want to. They trust him. When their hands are empty, and they are no longer clinging to the things of this world, these disciples are ready to make a full commitment and give their hearts and lives to the Lord. There’s no turning back.
Everything these men have experienced up to this moment will serve them well in their calling, just as everything we have done and learned and all our resources will help us as we seek to embrace the opportunities for ministry that the Lord opens to us. But only if we don’t hold too tightly to our nets and boats—the things of this world that bring us a false sense of security and can become idols for us.
It is only when we turn our gaze away from ourselves and our problems to the One who is shining in our dark world, the Light that still scatters shadows, that we experience Christ’s peace and joy. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we are empowered to love God and neighbor, and give of ourselves for His sake.
We are strengthened to trust and obey when he says, “Follow me.”
I was signing out at the main office at Coshocton Elementary on Friday at a quarter past 11, bag slung over my shoulder, coat on. I had places to go and things to do. I looked outside and saw it was pouring, again. Then I noticed a second grader from Mr. Gill’s class sitting on a chair behind the office counter. She looked unusually sad. She was one of the children I hadn’t gotten to read with that morning. I asked her what was wrong. Her Grandpa had died, she said, and she was going to his funeral. “I am sorry,” I said, and paused.
Then I put down my bag. My plans could wait. ‘Cause once we’ve been called by Jesus, there’s no turning back.
She jumped out of her chair, grabbed my hand and pulled me to sit beside her. Then she brought a picture book out of her bag and began to read it aloud, sliding a finger under each word. And that’s where we were when her mother came to pick her up. As I shook her hand and expressed sorrow for her loss, I recognized her from the ministry at Chestnut Crossing, where women from our congregation, for years, have offered the children kind words and gifts of love.
I heard the Lord saying, again, “See how I use you when you let me lead you? Trust me when I say, ‘Follow me.”
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we hear your call to us even today. Thank you for the privilege of serving you. Thank you for your mercy and grace. We ask that you would open up new ministry opportunities to us as individuals and as a church in this community that we may honor you and bear witness to our faith. And, Lord, if we have been reluctant to follow you and found excuses not to, forgive our hesitation. Help us to be pleasing to you. Empower us with your love. Stir us to acts of kindness and compassion so that everyone will see your Light in the darkness, a light that will never grow dim. In Christ we pray. Amen.