Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 4:12-23: Fishing for People

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel lesson this week is about the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus has learned that John was put in prison and he himself goes back home to Galilee. But he doesn’t stay in Nazareth, his hometown. He goes to live in Capernaum, which is in the area near Zebulun and Naphtali. It says he did this to give meaning to what the prophet Isaiah said: 

“Listen, land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, lands by the road that goes to the sea, the area past the Jordan River—Galilee, where those from other nations live.

The people who live in spiritual darkness have seen a great light. The light has shined for those who live in the land that is as dark as a grave.”

Matthew 4: 15-16

Jesus begins to teach. He tells people “Change your hearts and lives, because God’s kingdom is now very near.”

One day he is walking by Lake Galilee and he sees two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew. They are fishermen and they’re out on the lake fishing with a net. Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.” They immediately stop fishing and follow him. I love the idea of this. Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living. Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.” In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s crazy to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus. How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus then goes all over Galilee teaching in the synagogues and talking about God’s kingdom, as well as healing people. Think about this a bit: his main gigs were teaching and healing. How far can Christianity get from this sometimes? And his teaching is not a judgmental, condemning kind of teaching. Yes, he tells people to change their lives and do good, but he doesn’t turn away those whom society would consider bad. He welcomes all. But perhaps that is a lesson for another day—or I think every day.

So this is how Jesus starts his ministry. He doesn’t go straight to the temple in Jerusalem, the religious hot spot. He will eventually get to that, but he starts out in the countryside in smaller towns. He goes straight to the people, not to the bigshots–so very typical of our beloved Jesus.  

First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 3:13-17: Baptism

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday After Epiphany, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan River, where he asks John to baptize him. John balks at this, saying he should be baptized by Jesus instead.

Jesus says they should do whatever God says is right and John agrees to it.

Jesus is baptized and as he comes out of the water, the skies open and he sees God’s spirit coming down to him like a dove. He hears a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with him.”

Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry. This is part of why it is such an important sacrament. He made baptism an essential part of beginning to go out into the world to heal and teach and love people, and it marks our membership in the church that resulted from his life and ministry and death and resurrection. It’s a sign that we will continue his work of love and healing.

Though it is only the beginning of his work, John the Baptist already declares he should be the one baptizing and God’s spirit marks him as his own. Matthew is telling us how important this moment is and how important this ministry will be.

Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A: Matthew 2:1-12: Wise Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The story this week is one most of us know very well, and at my church, we showed part of it in our recent Christmas Pageant.  This is the part of the Nativity story told in Matthew’s gospel.  

It starts out by mentioning that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea while Herod was king. After Jesus was born, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem and asked people there where they could find a child born to be the king of the Jews. Interesting to note that Matthew never calls them kings or says there were three of them—those ideas all came later in the form of carols and pageants. Anyway, when Herod finds out these guys are in town looking for a new king of the Jews, he’s angry. He’s the king and not happy to hear about a potential usurper. So, he calls together priests and teachers and asks them where the Messiah would be born. They tell him in Bethlehem, based on an old prophecy.

Then Herod calls in the wise men and first finds out when they first saw the star and then sends them on to Bethlehem. He tells them to find the child and then come and tell him where he can find him so he can go worship him, too.

So the wise men go on and eventually find Jesus. They find him with his mother and bow down and give him the famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod so they go home a different way and avoid him.  

This story shows how special the baby Jesus was. These men came from far away to find him. Christmas is not about giving presents and Santa Claus and trees and all that, but it’s about this gift from God to all of us. And we give gifts to symbolize that gift and to remember the gifts the Magi gave.  (Click this link to see an interesting bit about the meanings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as well as info on Epiphany traditions).  

Another interesting angle is mentioned on this page (near the bottom, after the bit about chalking the door):

The world is full of stories about people who were invited to go with the three kings, but declined for a variety of reasons all related to being too busy. In most this person later then decides to follow the kings, but is always too late and spends the rest of his/her life looking for the child.  The message in all the stories is to stay alert for signs of God at work in the world (like a star in the sky or an invitation) and to be ready to drop everything to respond. 

Worshiping With Children blog

The wise men could have chosen to stay at home and just make a note that a king was born–instead, they went to seek him out.  Do we stay at home in our comfy pajamas (like I have for much of Christmas break, actually), or do we go out into the world to seek Jesus and do what he would want for us?

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the Good Man

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s Advent reading is often thought of as part of the Christmas story, but it’s all about Joseph’s perspective. Mary is engaged to Joseph, but before they marry, he learns she’s pregnant. He is a good man and thinks he’ll divorce her quietly.

I think this shows that Joseph is a righteous sort of man, but also a kind one. He isn’t going to make a fuss about it, though other men of his time might have made a big deal about finding their fiancée was in a family way.

However, he gets a visit from an angel in a dream. The angel tells him not to be afraid to marry Mary and assures him the baby is from the Holy Spirit. He is told to name him Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”

The passage goes on to say this was all prophesied–that a virgin would give birth a son and name him Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

When Joseph awakes, he does just as he was told. He marries Mary and doesn’t sleep with her until the child is born. Then he names him Jesus.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord’s angel told him to do. He married Mary. But Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And he names him Jesus.

So not only is Joseph righteous and kind, but he has great faith and a willingness to listen to God. He is strong and faithful to go ahead and marry someone whom he might have shamed and put aside. I think such a man must have been a great husband and father.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 11:2-11: John the Messenger

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

John the Baptist is in prison, where he is hearing a lot about Jesus, so he sends some followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah he has been expecting.

Jesus responds to tell John what they know: that the blind can see, the crippled walk, people are healed, and the deaf hear. The dead are brought back to life and the good news is brought to the poor. The answer is apparently obvious.

Then after John’s followers left, Jesus talks to the people about John, asking why they went out in the desert to see John. Obviously, they didn’t go out to see a fancy man in fine clothes or someone weak and inept. They went to see a prophet in John, but someone more than a prophet–a messenger who was preparing the way.

Then he says, “The truth is that John the Baptizer is greater than anyone who has ever come into this world. But even the least important person in God’s kingdom is greater than John.” (Matthew 2:11, Easy-to-Read Version).

So Jesus is responding to a question from John, his messenger. He is a messenger, but one who is still questioning his own message and seeking reassurance. We also come into Advent with questions about the coming of Christ. We are preparing for Christmas, we are awaiting his coming, but still, we need reassurance. The reassurance comes in the form of love and healing–good news for the poor, healing and restoration. The response from us is to carry that love forward and bring it to the world. And again Jesus reminds us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. What the world values should not be what we value. Love comes first and we must serve and love those who would never be first.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 3:1-12: Preparing the Way

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel lesson this week is all about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus—preparing for the coming of Christ, just as we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent.

John is a cousin to Jesus whose birth is mentioned in an earlier story in the Bible—his mother was pregnant at the same time Mary was and he jumped in the womb when his mother came near pregnant Mary—fun story. Anyway, in this story he is out in the desert preaching to people, telling them to change their ways because God’s kingdom was near. John the Baptist was quite a character, dressing in clothes made from camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. Camel’s hair is still used for coats today, even fancy designer ones, but John was not wearing the designer variety. He seemed to be living pretty rough and made his own clothes (and presumably caught his own bugs and scored his own honey for meals. He was a far cry from the preachers who draw huge crowds today. He did draw major crowds in his time, though. People came from all over and confessed their sins and then John baptized them in the Jordan River.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (we’ve talked about them for other lessons—religious and sometimes political leaders of the day) came out to see what the fuss was about and John didn’t respond happily. He called them snakes and told them to repent. I’ll quote this part from the Easy-to-Read version for this week. He says, “I know what you are thinking. You want to say, ‘but Abraham is our father!’ That means nothing. I tell you, God could make children for Abraham from these rocks. The ax is now ready to cut down the trees. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Yowza, dude did not mince words.

Then he predicts the coming (the Advent!) of Jesus. He says he baptizes with water to show repentance from sins, but that someone is coming who will do more—the one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Again, I just have to quote this part, no way to paraphrase: “He will come ready to clean the grain. He will separate the good grain from the straw, and he will put the good part into his barn. Then he will burn the useless part with a fire that cannot be stopped.” Yikes, more fire!

So much of this time of year is how we prepare for Christmas, which is a fun time of buying or making presents and wrapping them, decorating, baking, making travel plans. But we often prepare in life for much harder things–like hurricanes, snowstorms, or even rainy days. But how do we prepare for Jesus coming? How do we prepare for Christmas and the coming King? Sure, we prepare for Christmas in all sorts of practical ways, but we can also prepare our hearts. We can take any quiet moments we can get and pray and confess to God any wrong things we’ve done, ask forgiveness, and seek to make things better if we did something to hurt someone else. We can use our time to help others and be kind to others. It is better to have our hearts prepared than just our houses prepared.

First Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 24:36-44: Be Ready

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The scripture readings in advent can be frightening, but they are all reminders that even when terrible things are happening, God is in charge. We need to follow him and be faithful, sharing the love and light of God to a broken and hurting world.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking about the signs of distress that are going on his time in Israel and it all sounds dark and painful. He talks about how it looks as though things are falling apart but promises that soon the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) will arrive and then God’s power will win. He reminds his followers that when they see the signs of disruption they can know that God is very near (as God always is, but perhaps even more so when we are in distress). He reminds us to be alert so we can be ready on that day. 

When things are dark, we are to be light, as Jesus is a light to the world.

The Epiphany: Matthew 2:1-12: Light in Darkness

Epiphany

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for The Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew. I have also chosen to do the Epiphany readings even though it doesn’t fall on a Sunday. The readings for The First Sunday after the Epiphany can be found here.

The story of the Epiphany is the story of the Wise Men (or Magi) coming to visit baby Jesus–a story you’ve likely heard before. The singular word for Magi is Magus (where we get the word magician), so they were men of learning, some maybe astrologers reading portents in the sky. We have a  tradition of them being kings and that there were three of them, but that’s not found in the text itself–there’s no indication of a number other than that they presented three gifts. These Wise Men believed they could see the news of a king’s birth in the stars, so they came to find the king who had been born. They only knew he was born king of the Jews, so they first went to the leader of the Jews (but a leader who was a puppet king and collaborator with Roman rule–Herod). Herod was not happy to hear a king had been born, but he didn’t tell the Magi that. He told them to let him know when they found him and he had priests and teachers of the Jewish law advise the Magi on where a king might be born.

The Magi went on to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus, honored him, and gave him expensive gifts. Then they went home a different way because God warned them in a dream not to tell Herod where to find the baby Jesus.

In The First Christmas, a great little book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, they talk about the theme of light in the darkness in this story.

The story of the star does not make a statement about an astronomical phenomenon, but a statement about Jesus: his birth is the coming of the light that draws wise men of the Gentiles to its radiance.

The First Christmas (p. 182, Kindle Edition)

 

This makes me think of my last post about Jesus being both the Word of God and the light shining in the darkness. Jesus is that for us from that day to this.

Christ the King Sunday, Year A: Matthew 25:31-46: What You Do for Others

Vienna- The icon of Jesus among the apostles on the canvas in church Brigitta Kirche by unknown artist of 20. cent.

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Christ the King Sunday, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s story is Jesus telling his followers about a judgment to come in the future. He says the Son of Man will be sitting on a throne and all the people will be gathered before him. He will separate people into two groups like a shepherd separating sheep from goats–the sheep to his right and the goats to his left.

“Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made. It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home. When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’  

Matthew 25: 33-36 (Easy-to-Read Version)

They will be surprised that they ever did hose things for him, but he will answer, “The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here, you also did for me.”

 

The reverse occurs with the goats to his left–they are the ones who never did any of those things for others and so he rejects them.
The question Jesus is asking in this story is what have you done and what will you do for others? Because how you follow Jesus and how you love him is to love others. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the homeless, share clothes with those who need clothes, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. This is not just the task of the church, but of the individual. Whatever you do for God’s people (that is all the people–we are all God’s children), you do for Jesus Christ.

Proper 28, Year A: Matthew 25:14-30: Invest in Love

Love

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 28, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

In this parable, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as like a man who leaves on a trip and before he goes he leaves his servants in charge. He gives them each different amounts of money and they each responded differently. Some invest it but one just digs a hole and leaves his master’s money in a hole. When the master comes home he calls in his servants to see what they did with his money. he’s pleased with those who increased it, but he’s really angry at the one who only buried the money he was given. He takes money from that one and gives it to the one who made the most money.  The master says,   Everyone who uses what they have will get more. They will have much more than they need. But people who do not use what they have will have everything taken away from them.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

The master in this parable is really giving very large amounts of money to these servants (not for their own use but to keep safe for him and also to increase for him). It’s a big responsibility for each of them. Those who took the money and invested it were given even larger sums of money–so the reward was actually more responsibility to use it wisely. The one who hid the money was afraid to even attempt to invest it–his fear reminds me of Christians who hide away in their own church communities and don’t step out in faith to invest God’s love in the larger world to grow it more. God will come back and say, “What did you do with what I gave you?” and they can only look around at their own small world that they haven’t expanded. We have to step out in faith and use God’s love to change the world, not only to dig a hole and bury it in fear of his wrath. God’s love is meant to be shared, and then it will only grow.