The Excellent Way: Matthew 4:12-23
#TheExcellentWay is the Podcast for January 22, 2017. Repentance. Yuk. What exactly does it mean? Why kind of people should we be? Listen to this podcast to find out.: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #TrueCommunity #Mission #NewTribe #Peter #Andrew #James #John #JesusMinistry #Duke #Yale #Harvard #Stanford #JasonBourne #JackReacher #DirtyHarry
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 1/22/2017 The 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 4:12-23.
There is a LOT going on in this Gospel Lesson today. Do not be fooled. It may look like a simple, Jesus came, proclaimed, called, and healed—done. The importance of this passage is that it is the beginning of the active ministry of Jesus. It shows us that we are to live a more excellent way.
Last week, we talked about the Baptism of Jesus and how that showed us some important the characteristics of God. This week, after his Baptism, then being tempted in spiritual warfare with Satan in the desert, and John being betrayed into prison, Jesus steps onto the scene and continues the mission, beginning his mission. Today, the readings tell us what the foundational character of Jesus’ new community is. It is no less than the re-birth of what it means to be the people of God.
I think we get it all wrong with the way we are children of the Enlightenment and the scientific method. (Although reason and deduction are not to be sneezed at, don’t get me wrong.) Jesus does not approach Peter, Andrew, James, and John saying, “Are you saved?” Nor does he say, “Do you know who I am?” He doesn’t say, “I have some propositions of truth that I would like for you to assent to then I will be back in a week to ask you if you think it is the truth.” There is no coffee bar, no welcome center, no high tech rock concert like setting. There is no incense at this point. There are no pointed hats, lace gowns, chalices, hierarchy, or any of that stuff. There is just a man, albeit the God-man, who walks along a beach calling out to fishermen who are so swept away by him that they leave everything behind to follow him.
There were no lessons. There were no displays of power. There was only an invitation. “Come, follow me.” It was the offer of a relationship with the living God. It is the first lesson on what “Repentance” is and what it is not. It IS a turning of your life in a totally different direction toward making God your first priority. It IS a relationship with him. It IS following him to learn what it means to be God’s people. So, repentance is not about assent to facts and theological principles and tracts. It may or may not be an emotional moment. Repentance is a relational response to the Lord who comes and invites us to follow him. He comes to us and repentance is our cessation of hostilities toward the Lord of the universe.
This is highly unusual. Usually, we have to apply to get into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or Duke. Usually, we have to apply for the plum job, the incredible franchise, the amazing deal. Here, the script is flipped. There is a mission and the Lord is gathering his team around him. That will continue to happen. Someone in your life will invite you to come have a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. When they do, they are the Lord Jesus walking along the shoreline of your life calling you to drop your nets, turn in a different direction, and begin to follow him and his ways.
The Lord comes after you. Heaven comes after you. It is a gift presented and given to you. It is a compliment of the highest order. Jesus comes to you and says, “I need you, just as you are, to come and follow me.” It is an encounter that needs to happen everyday within us. The life giving thing is that when our purpose is wrapped in the purpose of God it may hurt, but it has meaning. It may have joy, but that is just a foretaste of what is to come.
Now, let’s be certain, as I indicated just a minute ago, it is a calling to something that is way different than what the world offers. So, John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin is betrayed and will be killed. He is taken into custody. If Christ were your run of the mill king, dictator, despot, or demagogue, he would start thrashing with his words, rattling with his sword, and raise up forces to storm the prison where his cousin is held. This kingdom will not be about the hypocrisy that underlies the jealousy, murder, overthrow, and oppression of those who thirst for power in the cloak of righteousness.
Jesus’ response to John’s imprisonment, his betrayal, is to move from Jewish Nazareth, to Gentile and Jewish mixed Capernaum in fulfillment of Isaiah’s calling that a Light is coming to lead all people in a new and expanded tribe. The Light responds to John’s imprisonment by picking up John’s message and carrying the mission of God on to the next stage. He simply repeats what John has said, “Repent. Near to you is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
That is important because it tells us how we are supposed to respond to living in this world as people of the excellent way. We pick up where others left off, where we left off. There is a community to be established that is different than the world. It operates under rules that do not seek revenge, but stay focused on the mission. It is what we like about Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, even Dirty Harry, and other action films. In a laser guided way, these leaders are like Jesus in this sense: you can kill off my cousin, but the mission continues.
Make no mistake, “repent” means to re-orient your life. We reorient to forgiveness, which is very hard. We reorient to letting God into our lives, which requires vulnerability which we seem to hate. We reorient to allowing Jesus’ words to guide our actions, if not our emotions or hearts, which means we have to give up some power. We reorient ourselves to the ways of people like some of the people of Mother Emmanuel Church of South Carolina who forgave and loved the convicted killer Dylan Roof who shot their brothers and sisters in Christ at Bible Study. I am breathtakingly blown away by that.
That response by the Christians at Mother Emmanuel Church, and countless other mass shootings in America, is the more excellent way. We are the people of the more excellent way. That is what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 as he prepares us for what he will explain love is in 1 Corinthians 13. He then goes on to say that love is patient, kind, it does not insist upon its own way, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Man! That is some hard stuff to do. Yet, it is what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is what we have to grow into as those who are today called to be followers of Jesus Christ. To love requires that we repent, or, change the focus of our lives.
Repentance, then, is not conditioned on other people’s behavior, it is our behavior. Repentance, then, does not apply only when we are in church, on the job, or in public; it applies in our hearts toward ourselves and in our homes, too. Repentance, then, is not about agreeing with God and getting it right. It is about following the Lord, being close to Him, and growing into this more excellent life.
Hear the man. Drop your nets. Leave them. Follow. Take up the mission. Move on. Repent. Near to you is the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian