3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Matthew 4:12-23

Last week we heard Jesus pose the question, “What are you looking for?” and I confessed that when I’d tried to answer the question myself that nothing had come readily to mind, and we considered some of the possible answers that might be given. Bottom line though, was the reassuring conclusion that we didn’t have to have the answer, we simply needed to accept Jesus’ invitation to “Come and see.” The idea here is that we will not only find the answer while being in the presence of Jesus but somehow we will also find that he is the answer.

This week, is Matthew’s Gospel version of the invitation to Andrew and Peter, as well as to James and John, to follow Jesus. In this narrative Jesus seeks out Andrew and Peter as they are going about their jobs as fishermen and invites them to lay down their nets, follow him, and learn to fish for people instead. The text tells us that they immediately left their nets and followed him, which I personally think is extraordinary.

Think about it. You are going about your duties in whatever job you have, and this stranger comes along and invites you to leave your job and go with him and learn to do something that makes no sense. (Fishers of men?!)

Then there’s James and John, also fishermen, who are at work in the boat with their father, Zebedee. They are mending their nets and Jesus invites them to come to him and they also immediately leave the boat and their father to follow him. This too is extraordinary because to leave one’s family is to walk away from your primary source of identity and honor, not to mention the commandment to take care of your father and mother.

Clearly there is something about Jesus that is irresistible, or at the very least, compelling.

I couldn’t help but wonder if we find him so irresistible? Do we represent him in such a way that others are compelled to come closer even if they don’t know why? Down through the ages, churches have run with Jesus’ statement in both John and Matthew to “repent for the kingdom of God is near” and people have in some cases been coerced and frightened into following Jesus. I honestly don’t think that was Jesus’ intention.

The words “come and see, and follow me” are invitations into presence, in fact, into the presence of God. Jesus is the embodiment of the Father/Mother, as I like to refer to God, and we are meant to understand that being with Jesus is to be with God. That’s what we’re doing when we come together and that’s what we’re doing when we come to the Table and let Christ’s Body and Blood become one with our bodies and blood. It’s a profound mystery and it’s all about presence—Jesus in the Father/Mother, us in Jesus, and Jesus in us. Presence, presence, presence.

Now why am I harping on this business of presence? Well, as I was studying the Scriptures this week the themes of darkness vs. light were unavoidable. In fact I made a list of all the things that represent darkness and light. The list was long and I can tell you that light outweighed the dark—of course. I say “of course” because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but our world is overflowing with images and stories of dark vs. light, and we are just eating them up.

Someone noted that there is a trend in fiction toward the supernatural and fantastical. Have you noticed how many books there are about vampires and witches and such. There are also many cases of movies and TV series that involve either the supernatural or beings with superpowers.

At first look it might seem that we have developed a fascination with all things supernaturally dark or evil. Certainly there have been arguments made to corroborate this theory, but I have another theory.

I believe that as beings with a spirit, we are drawn to things spiritual. I myself am completely addicted to stories in which the good and pure hearted come into conflict with the sinisterly malevolent. I also love all the fantasy books and movies in which mere mortals have extraordinary abilities, which of course are used for battling evil.

Now you might think that I’m merely trying to justify my fetish with the following but I think that the reason I and so many others are drawn to these scenarios is because we want, in some cases rather desperately, to think that there’s more than this world—more than what we can see.

We don’t need anyone to tell us about evil. We live it every day whether we admit or not. Turn on the news—people are bombed, raped, tortured, oppressed, murdered. People we wanted to trust lie and manipulate in their quest for power. People we trusted lie to us or betray us. Then there are the things that we will question to our graves—children shot in schools, lives cut short by disease or by random acts of violence. Oh yes, we are intimately acquainted with evil.

But you see, that’s why I love my fantasy fiction, because I love to see Good kicking Evil’s butt! I love to know that no matter how twisted and hopeless the situation is, that Good will triumph in the end.

In fact, I had a rather heated discussion with God about it this week. I was like, “Well of course they’re running to vampires and super heroes and all things supernatural. They feel powerless. They want to know there’s more than what they can see. They want to see power unleashed to vanquish evil. They want good to show up—why can’t you be like them and show up?!”

To my great shame, I heard very clearly, “I already did.”

People who sat in darkness have seen a great light and that Light was the light of all people. We forget we are supernatural people living in a spiritual world—God’s kingdom. There are indeed a myriad number of things that are beyond our seeing. There is mystery everywhere if we have but eyes to see it. Ultimate Goodness has indeed kicked evil’s butt. We may not see the victory flag that’s been planted but it’s been planted on this earth in the form of a cross. Everything belongs to God and God is in every person’s life, whether acknowledged or not.

We’ve been invited to come and see, by the Lord of the universe. He has beckoned us to follow. We may not know where we’re going but we do know where we’ll end up. We’ve been invited to live every moment in God’s presence—the place where light shines in the darkness, where good ultimately overcomes evil, and where it is not about earning love and belonging but about learning to respond to the love and acceptance that is already ours (which by the way is what true repentance is). I don’t know about you but to me that’s pretty irresistible.

Lord Jesus, take our hands, strengthen our legs, and quicken our feet that we may follow you, and live all our days with you, in the glory of your presence. Amen.