When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
In 21st century America, we are invited to join, participate, follow, watch, pledge and try out a zillion different things. I’ve been invited to parties and participated in fundraisers; I’ve followed groups on Twitter, plan to watch the Super Bowl with friends, pledged a sorority in college, and auditioned for plays in community theatre. When I’m invited, I experience a range of emotions depending on the situation. Being invited to to follow someone on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean too much to me, while being invited to pledge my sorority may have changed the trajectory of my life as I entered adulthood. Invitations may be easy to accept or decline, depending on the attachment, commitment level and emotional involvement. But just being invited to participate can send a jolt of excitement (ok, maybe it’s not that exciting to follow someone on Twitter – but certainly more exciting to lead an organization or join a new group of friends in a fun Friday night activity). I am quite often caught off guard if I didn’t see the invitation coming (like someone asking me to lead a group when I don’t see myself as the leader before being asked) – receiving the request can be flattering and/or daunting, causing me to do a quick assessment of my skills to help me determine if I am up for the task.
Today’s Gospel reading finds Jesus fulfilling another prophecy related to charismatic John’s imprisonment and the unspoken freedom it gives Jesus to move to Galilee and really increase his presence as a teacher without the confusion of followers choosing between John and Jesus. But he knows he can’t do this without a long lasting group of followers. Andrew, Peter, James and John were most likely hard working fishermen who had little to no social standing in the community. They caught fish for a living; they didn’t run a bank, weren’t CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, nor were they lawyers or doctors. Their jobs were simple yet powerful – go out and get fish so people will eat. The parallel between the jobs of fishermen and the jobs of apostles can be drawn simply: you know how to fish, now let’s fish for people.
I have often wondered over the years, as this Gospel reading comes around, about how I would have likely reacted at the invitation to leave my livelihood and family to go and do some pretty crazy things without the security of my current life. Sadly, I always reach the same conclusion – I’m not very confident that my answer would have been a resounding yes. There is much evidence in my current life of resisting the call to serve, with most of those invitations not EVEN requiring me to give up much of anything. I am currently wrestling pretty mightily with a very radical and transformational call to ministry and if that is any indication, leaving my nets on the side of the Sea of Galilee seems like it may have been a pretty unlikely outcome.
So here is the great news…Jesus doesn’t really tap us on the shoulder and ask us to walk away from everything to do. Whew!!!!! His invitation is comprised of just asking us to follow him. Seems simple, right? Simple – yes. Easy to do – not so much. If you are anything like me, you wake up with great intentions for the way your day will go, or you go to bed on New Year’s Eve with a year’s worth of new commitments for bettering yourself, only to find yourself forgetting all about your commitments or well intentioned to-do lists. It’s hard to keep our focus on Christ and loving each other when we have to run to the grocery store on the way to the office to get the snacks for the meeting we will be hurrying to right after work and before we head home to fold laundry and make lunches for the next day (makes fishing on the Sea of Galilee seem quite simple after all!).
But following Jesus gives all those other things the appropriate purpose and perspective. Committing to adding purposeful study, prayer and actions that bear witness to our relationship with Christ can start with small habits in the morning when you first wake up, at the end of the day when you are ready to rest or all throughout the day mixed in with your other to-do list items. It’s somewhat surprising how quickly those “habits” become integrated in our lives when we do them with a purpose.
Following Christ may mean a drastic change in your lifestyle and commitments. Or it may mean adding in special time at the foot of the Cross each day. Whatever it means for you, the first step is accepting the invitation to accept that God has chosen and loves each and every one of us. The next steps are completely in your court.
The love of our Father is greater than we can imagine and our invitation to follow him sometimes falls on deaf ears. Help us to see you in the world, find time to spend with your in prayer, and to live our lives as followers of you. You are our All in All. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Our daughter had the most awesome caretaker when she was a year old. Her name was NeeCee and she was loved by each member of our family. She did really creative activities with the three little girls that came to her house every day – like field trips in the stroller to the library and our family’s favorite – baking day! She loved the girls like they were her own, but the very best thing she did was teach the foundation of gratitude. At 14 months old, our little girl said “thank you” for every little thing she received because it was NeeCee’s expectation 100% of the time from the each of her kids, even the ones that belonged to the rest of us!
But saying thank you the way a toddler does is not what this story in Luke is referencing. First, let’s start with the 10 lepers. 10 lepers hanging out together and walking down the road – what a sight that must have been! Lepers lived at the lowest rung of society during Jesus’ time, so they were most likely very desperate for relief from their probably painful and definitely disabling condition. We don’t know from this story whether they were people of faith, or just people willing to ask for healing from any Tom, Dick or Harry. But their display of belief becomes apparent as they do exactly as Jesus says when they ask him for healing (“Have mercy on us.”).
But why did only one of the healed lepers stop to show his appreciation to Jesus? I mean, come on, they were HEALED and headed back up the social status ladder! I remember doing something really nice for a “close friend” when I was much younger and being shocked at the lack of gratitude showed to me for my sincere effort and sacrifice I made for this friend. It ended our friendship because I was so downright bitter about the lack of gratitude, so I can only imagine how Jesus may have felt when only one took the time to say thanks. It’s easy to look at this story and say that 1 out of 10 lepers had the decency to say thanks for the mercy, Lord.
I’m thinking that is not the best message to take away. For me, I know that showing gratitude for my gifts can get lost in the excitement of receiving them. I am often guilty of taking my gifts of grace and mercy for granted. Jesus isn’t going around Samaria and Galilee and healing in order to get appreciation and we shouldn’t do our good works for others to fish for compliments either. But there is a tangible effort in our relationship with others when we do take the time to appreciate them for what they do for us. Our thanks is a great relationship builder with one another and most certainly, that holds true in our relationship with Christ as well. Doing things for others is what we are called to do. Showing our appreciation is the least we can do and one of the most powerful tools in relationship development. And that holds true for our relationship as followers. The appreciation can do much in the work of our relationship, showing our intimacy and closeness to keep mindful of our gifts of grace.
I choose to focus on the one healed person who turned back and recognized his gift of healing. The other lepers probably partied all night long celebrating their good fortune in healing. They may have thanked God for that gift as well. But I bet the one who took the time to appreciate Jesus had the deepest blessing of a relationship with Christ – which in the end, is better than any physical healing anyway. His gratitude did much in the way of working in faith with God. Our challenge is to find ways to show appreciation to our friends, families and strangers, as well as to our Lord and Savior. It seems to be the very minimum expectation and goes the longest way to having that deep relationship we want with God.
Healing God, you give us the grace mercy we never deserve through the loving gift of your son our Savior. Help us to find the time and the strength to be grateful for our many gifts. We want to deepen our relationship with you and know that our gratitude will help us grow closer to you every day. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
In today’s world, we use the word “crazy” to describe lots of things that fall outside the ordinary expections: crazy weather, crazy ending to a ballgame, crazy drivers on the highway, etc. But the man in this story more likely meets the legal definition of “crazy.” I think we all know folks who are mentally ill to the point of debilitating them in their life activities, so to make light of the pain that someone has who has no control over their behaviors or to their family and friends would be unwise and we may want to rethink the way we throw that word “crazy” around. Just my two cents…
But aren’t we all “possessed” by something? Are you focused on your money, your stuff, your weight, your clothes, your toys, gossip? Each of these things are just that…THINGS. These things drive the way we spend our time, talent and treasure for whatever simple reason. Either they bring us pleasure to have them or we think that we will have all we need once we get them. But they are never enough…we keep collecting the stuff or ideas and use them to fill our holes in ourselves. The man that Jesus heals in this story is certainly suffering from mental illness/demon possession or whatever. Jesus is able to remove the problem and the man is left at peace and healed from suffering with the words and touch from Jesus. He is a powerful witness to the healing of Jesus and I’m sure was a very effective evangelist in his day!
We all have our demons that get in the way of our true and deep relationship with God. What I love about the healed man in this story is that he stepped forward to Jesus. This was a man who lived his life away from society and in restraints because of his demons and he took the very brave step to walk up to Jesus and believe. We don’t live our lives physically restrained necessarily, but our own sins and distractors from our relationship with Jesus stand in our way of the greatest relationship opportunity of all. We just need to trust that Jesus can lead us closer to him with just a request from us.
What Jesus said after the demons were cast out of the man when he begged to go with Jesus is the advice we should all be following if we truly claim our gift of grace – go out and tell everyone what God has done for us. Why should we keep his love for us a secret? And dare I say that you and I may have more credibility in our communities than someone previously living in a cemetery who was the town outcast?
So make a decision to put aside the things standing in our way of our true relationship with God. Ask for help from the Father when you need it and tell the world the Good News. It’s the least we can do.
Forgiving and healing Lord, we intentionally accept your invitation to follow You and tell the world about your grace and mercy. Help us to put aside those things which stand in our way and to walk with You every day in every way. In Christ Jesus we pray. AMEN.