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Sunday 22nd January 2017

Gospel

Matthew 4:12-23

Hearing that John had been arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he went and settled in Capernaum, a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. In this way the prophecy of Isaiah was to be fulfilled:
‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people that lived in darkness has seen a great light;
on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’
  As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets at once and followed him. Going on from there he saw another pair of brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they were in their boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. At once, leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.
  He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people.

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This is a gospel of beginnings and of endings. John has been imprisoned, we are told.

The gates of a prison have closed on the mighty voice of John. This marks the end of the

preparatory period for the Messiah and the effective end of the prophetic voice in the

scriptures. It has always been the fate of prophets to end badly – even if their message

survives.

This gospel also marks the start of Jesus’ public ministry with its characteristically

radical demands. Jesus begins to speak and to preach openly. He begins in what was then

called ‘Galilee of the nations’, the crossroads of the known world. Sceptics and cynics

had asked, ‘can anything good come out of Galilee?’

Jesus preaching of the Good News is a message set to spread. The kingdom of God is

being announced. Light is dawning that will dispel the long night of sin and death. The

scriptures are being foretold. As the prophet Isaiah had said, ‘The people that lived in

darkness has seen a great light, On those who live in the land of deep shadow a light has

shone’.

The Lord has come to take away the bar of oppression that weighed his people down, to

remove the yoke that locked his people into suffering and slavery. The Lord, the light and

help of mankind begins his mission among us.

Salvation has come to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews.

Jesus’ first teaching is a call to repentance and forgiveness. All of his subsequent stories

are stories with a common thread of forgiveness. His dying words are words of

forgiveness for the repentant thief and for his killers. His resurrection gift is that of the

Spirit of forgiveness, offered to his repentant people.

This gospel represents a beginning for the Christian church and mission. To help Jesus in

his work and to spread his word there follows the choosing of apostles. ‘Follow me’ he

commands, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ The challenge of Jesus is radical and

immediate. They are to be fishermen of the vast fishing-ground of the human race. There

is an importance in Christ’s choice of ordinary men who leave all, expect their humanity

and follow him. The response of the apostles is an example of wholehearted obedience to

Christ’s call and to the point of great personal sacrifice.

Christ goes on his public mission all around Galilee, teaching, proclaiming the Good

News and authenticating his claims by curing the sick. Where this continues, where

repentance is preached, where the Good News is proclaimed, where people leave all to

follow him and become fishers of men, then truly the kingdom of God is close at hand.