When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.
“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” The word “repent” carries a lot of religious baggage that unfortunately is negative in character. By that, I don’t mean that we just don’t like to repent and so it comes across as negative, I mean that we see the word repent as a turning away, but we do not see it as a turning toward. We see it like turning off the lights and leaving ourselves in darkness, or turning off the TV and finding ourselves in silence. Those disciplines of self-emptying are important, but they are never the final step. We empty ourselves of our self-centeredness so that we can discover others, and in discovering others, we find God.
It is not surprising that immediately after Matthew’s record of the beginning of Jesus preaching calling us to repent, Jesus calls Fisherman away from their nets to a new kind of fishing, fishing for people. Repentance calls us away from selfishness to a new kind of humanity. It calls us out of our ego into our spirit where we can truly love one another, and in loving one another we find that we love God and are loved by God. The call of God does not call us away from ourselves, but rather into the fullest expression of ourselves in relation to one another and God.
Following Jesus means to repent, and that repentance turns us toward life.
The Rev. Paul Moore
Priest at St. Paul’s (email)