What’s the Good News?

Third Sunday Scripture Readings

Who were these men we read about in today’s gospel? What were they doing fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and what was their relationship to Jesus? Because the evangelists weren’t concerned with providing us with a comprehensive history of everything that transpired in the life of Jesus and his followers, we have to be careful when we piece together the fragments of the story they gave us. We shouldn’t let our imaginations go too far afield. However, it won’t hurt us to set the tiles of this mosaic all together and take a step back to see what patterns emerge.

Jesus didn’t start his public ministry right away after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. It only began after John’s ministry ended. Today’s gospel begins with the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, tetrarch of the territories of Galilee and Perea. A tetrarch is a provincial ruler who was granted limited autonomy by the Roman emperor. He was not, strictly speaking, a king, but rather a ruler. Herod was in charge of Galilee and Perea, while Pilate was the Roman governor of neighboring Judea. Herod had John the Baptist arrested because he was causing trouble for him, calling him out publicly for divorcing his wife and marrying Herodias, the widow of his half-brother.

That ended John the Baptist’s public ministry. Some of his disciples followed him and cared for him in prison, while others returned to their homes. According to the Gospel of John, two of those disciples were Andrew and John himself. They were Galileans and returned to their work as fishermen. Jesus, too, returned from Judea to his home in Galilee, first to his village of Nazareth, and then to the larger town of Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. If John the Evangelist is being accurate, then John and Andrew, as fellow disciples of John the Baptist, must have been at least acquaintances. What’s more, they must also have been acquainted with Jesus as well—they would have been with the Baptist when Jesus was baptized—and Jesus may well have been acquainted with them, as well. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that, when Jesus called Andrew, his brother Peter would have come, too. And when Jesus called John, James would have followed.

The words of the gospel today stress the immediacy of the brothers’ response. At Jesus’s summons, we can imagine the two sets of brothers packing up their stuff and leaving everything behind to follow Jesus as his disciples. This may not have been as radical a move as we might have imagined. After all, Andrew and John had already left home once before to follow John the Baptist. They were evidently on a spiritual quest. Again, we can speculate that, after they returned home once the Baptist had been arrested, they were wondering, “What do we do now?” Jesus supplied the answer, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

If we consider our own summons to be followers of the Christ, we like Andrew, Peter, John, and James, ought to keep in mind two things. First, we could not respond to God’s call—indeed, we would have been deaf to it—if we hadn’t already had a spiritual hunger in our hearts and were listening for that call. Secondly, we couldn’t have satisfied our spiritual hunger if we hadn’t been willing to undertake the quest to find it. It was no random occurrence that Jesus called Andrew, Peter, John, and James; and it’s not a random occurrence that God has called you to be here today. God is no tyrant. God will only meet us halfway.

What message did Jesus bring to his disciples and commissioned them to spread abroad? That message we call the “gospel” which means the “Good News.” Here it is according to Matthew: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Does that sound like good news to you? Maybe not. But before we dismiss it, perhaps it would serve us well to dig more deeply into that message and tear it apart a little. Let’s start with the word, “heaven.” Remember that Matthew was writing his gospel to potential converts from Judaism. For them, the name of God, Yahweh, was considered so sacred that even words referring to it—like “God”—were to be avoided. They piled euphemisms on top of euphemisms. So, “heaven” was an acceptable replacement for the word, “God.” Other gospel writers who wrote for Greek converts had no trouble talking about the “Kingdom of God,” and neither should we.

What about the word, “kingdom?” That doesn’t mean a kingdom in the sense of a territory. Instead, it refers to God’s power and authority over humankind. To avoid misunderstanding, we should always mentally replace the word “kingdom” with the word “reign.” Understood correctly, Jesus’s preaching was, “Repent, for the reign of God is at hand.”

Now, we need to reconsider what Jesus meant by “repent.” In the original Greek, it’s the word, Μετανοειτη (metanoeitē), the call to metanoia—a change of mind and heart. However we understand it, it’s a summons to turn away from our old way of thinking. We could just as easily say it calls us to turn away from sin, so long as we understand that the sin Jesus is talking about is the sin of arrogant self-reliance. It’s the sin of believing “I’ve got this, I’ve got everything under control, I’m the master of my destiny,” or, if you will, “I’m the general manager of the universe.”

The reason that Jesus’s message is the Good News is that God is in control, and we can resign. It’s that resignation, that acceptance of the fact that a loving Power has the universe—including us—under control, so we don’t have to. All we need to do to be happy—to be at peace—is to surrender and let God be God. Repent. Chance your mind. You’re not the be-all and end-all. Give up the illusion of self-reliance. The reign of God—God’s loving care—is at hand. It’s here. Accept it. Surrender to it. In the simplest of terms, “let go and let God.”

There’s a barometer that can show us how well we’re doing as disciples. Whatever we’re finding unacceptable in God’s universe, whatever outside of ourselves we’re struggling to make different from what it is, that’s where our repentance, our metanoia hasn’t yet reached. If there’s anything in your life for which you’re not grateful, that’s where grace hasn’t yet penetrated. For those who fully live the gospel of Jesus, there’s nothing for which they aren’t grateful. Our coming together this morning is an act of gratitude for everything in our lives, without reservation. It’s our prayer of thanksgiving, our Eucharist.

“Change your mind,” Jesus tells us today, “for the reign of God is here.” Leave your anxiety, your disappointment, your anger, and your dissatisfaction behind. Leave it all in God’s hands, because it’s not yours to fix. Come, then, you who have been freed from the responsibility of being perfect, of trying to do everything right, of trying to be everything to everybody, and join me in our prayer of thanksgiving—our Eucharist—to the One who freed us from all futility, the futility of sin and death. For, it is indeed right to give him thanks and praise.

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