Normally when this text comes up, we talk about Simon and Andrew, James and John, and Jesus calling them away from their nets to fish for people.
I’m actually going to look elsewhere in this text. Specifically, the first two verses of it. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum”.
So what? What’s that about? Jesus heard John the Baptist had been arrested, so he moved. Why does that matter, and what does it have to do with us?
In this text, Jesus has just been baptized and tempted in the wilderness. This move to Capernaum is, in fact, his first act as the announced “Son of God.” And so, in this gospel, moving the 30 miles from Nazareth in Judea to Capernaum in Galilee makes a major statement about the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Here are some things that would catch people’s attention when they heard that:
Capernaum was in the region of Galilee, which was about as far from Jerusalem as you could get in Israel — way on the north end. Away from the political power, away from the religious center. It was largely ignored by the rulers and the priests. Moving away from Jerusalem to Capernaum is like moving from NYC or Washington DC to Jackson Hole, WY
Galilee was surrounded by Gentiles and pagans. Phoenicians on the west. Syrians on the northeast, Samaritans on the south, and the sea of Galilee on the southeast. No good God-fearing people anywhere nearby. Kind of irreligious.
Unlike Jerusalem and other cities in Judea, Capernaum was a crossroads for major foreign trade and travel. It had been invaded and conquered over and over. Different people, ideas, ways of thinking, cultures were constantly being introduced. Foreigners had flowed in and sometimes even took over. If there was anything weird going on in Israel, it probably started somewhere in Galilee. Pretty rowdy and radical place.
Although Galilee was Jewish, it was a forced Judaism. It had been in all kinds of different Gentile hands for about 600 years, but in a previous war the Jews had revolted and all the residents had been converted at the point of a sword. So their loyalty to the established religion in Jerusalem had always been questionable.
To bring God’s vision and reveal the reign of God, the first thing Jesus does is move from his hometown, not to the religious center of Jerusalem that everyone knew, but to a place completely different and far away from the Jewish Bible Belt. A place surrounded by people who didn’t know God, or even want to. A place whose culture was anything but ethical, and a place about as outside of God’s vision of peace and mercy as was possible.
I guess it’s like someone said to me a couple of weeks ago, “If you want to heal people, go where the sick people are.” That’s what Jesus did. In a place where the vision was God was most lacking, it became more important than ever that he reveal it. He went to a place where the reign of God would be seen because it was so different.
As declining church attendance around the country is revealing, fewer and fewer people in our country actually follow Jesus. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that we do.
As fewer people take seriously Christ’s example of showing compassion, of sowing mercy, and of striving for peace, it’s more important than ever that we do.
As fewer and fewer people exhibit Christ’s love for all people, regardless of history, background, identity, or expression, it’s more important than ever that we do.
Jesus deliberately moved to Capernaum because that’s where the signs of God’s justice and grace would be most visible. The good news for us is that we don’t have to move anywhere. We don’t have to move to Capernaum because Capernaum has come to us.
There are people right outside our doors who need to know they are loved for who they authentically are. We’re here to love them with Christ’s love. It’s more important than ever that we do.
There are people right here in our neighborhoods who are feeling unwelcomed and unwanted. We’re here to include them with Christ’s welcome. It’s more important than ever that we do.
There are people in our schools and workplaces who are frightened for their safety because of the color of their skin or their place of birth. We’re here to stand with them with Christ’s justice. It’s more important than ever that we do.
If you want to heal people, go to where the sick people are. If you want to reveal the ways of Christ, go to where it isn’t always visible. If you want to follow Jesus, you end up in Capernaum. In our world, in our neighborhoods, in our culture today, it’s more important than ever that we make Christ visible. Perhaps that’s what Jesus means when tells these first disciples that if they follow him, they will fish for people.
God’s love in Christ is captivating, it catches us and holds us. Now, being caught by that love, we love with that same love, share with that same generosity, stand up with that same sense of justice. If you want to heal people, go to where the sick people are. Follow Jesus there, reveal his love to people who don’t know unconditional love. Show his grace to people who’ve given up on grace. Show his compassion to people who are in desperate need of compassion. Follow Jesus there, and we can’t help but catch people.