We tend to think of being arrested as a bad thing. In many cases, this is the truth. However, for a number of people throughout the world, being arrested was the necessary catalyst for changing the world.
Every movement has a catalyst. A precipitating event that causes the rest of the story to happen. We know this well. For Martin Luther King Jr., the precipitating event that turned him into a national civil rights leader was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by Ms. Rosa Parks, an African American woman, being arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus for a white person.
In Jesus' case, according to the gospel of Matthew, the catalyst was his cousin's John's arrest. John's arrest proved to be a little bit of a wake up call and a time of acknowledgement of the risks of what he was doing. Jesus probably knew that his ministry was not going to be easy. Spending forty days in the desert to prepare yourself for the task is one clue that he knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. After his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness then he goes home to Nazareth, to his family. However, John being arrested put a new perspective on the timing of his ministry. Now was the time. He could not wait any longer. When John is arrested, he decides it is time for something new to happen. So he moves away from his family. I imagine this was one way that he tried to give himself room to focus on what God was calling him to do. So we see the real, on the ground, start of his ministry. In this passage, Matthew shows us that Jesus' ministry is in three parts. Jesus' ministry is about being present, proclaiming the good news, and healing his people.
Jesus was present. We talk about Jesus being the incarnation. The dwelling of God in humanity, that in Jesus, God was present with humanity. Jesus comes to us as God made manifest, as God made obvious. Matthew wants us to acknowledge the fullness of what God is trying to do by also making sure we are aware that Jesus had a home in Capernaum. We tend to think of Jesus as an iterant preacher. Always wandering around without any home. And I've never heard any tradition about Jesus' home in Capernaum, and it is not on any tour in the Holy Land. But the point isn't whether or not Jesus had a house in the town of Capernaum. The point is that God was really truly living among his people. Jesus had a home and it was with us, his people. He was not just talking to them and curing them... and then retreating to a quiet safe space... no. God in Jesus was living right among them. He had an address and everything. He did not turn anyone away, the poor, the middle class, the rich. He dealt with his neighbors, with the store keepers, with the tradesmen, everybody. Jesus was present.
Jesus also proclaimed. Matthew wants us to believe the authenticity of Jesus being a prophet of God, being called from God with a word to speak, part of the tradition of the scripture. Matthew gives us Jesus' ministerial catch phrase as it starts out. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Prophets were known by what they spoke and the messages that they repeated. Matthew also wants to make sure we know that Jesus is following the tradition of John and the other prophets from scripture. Jesus isn't coming from out of left field, Matthew wants his listeners to know that Jesus is the one whom they have been waiting for for a long time. Jesus' proclamation was what people had been waiting to hear. Good news! You may be wondering how "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" would be good news. But we hear this proclamation with different ears than it would have been heard twenty centuries ago. Repent has connotations to us that push out some of the other meanings of the word. "Turn around, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" sounds a little bit different to our ears. Its almost as if Jesus is pointing something out to us, that maybe is behind us where we cannot see. If only we turned around, we would be able to see that the kingdom of heaven is near! Sadly, over and over again, we fail to see how near the kingdom of heaven is. Luckily, that didn't stop Jesus from proclaiming.
And Jesus healed. The third part of Jesus' ministry that Matthew highlights in this gospel passage is the healing of diseases, casting out demons, and generally making his people whole. Jesus has come into the world to save God's people and part of saving them means returning them to wholeness. We become broken in so many ways. We are broken by each other's sins. We are broken by diseases that mess with our minds and bodies and souls. We are broken by demons of anger and malice and hatred. We are broken and lacking the peace that comes from being whole. God sees us in our brokenness and sends Jesus to forgive our sins, to cure our diseases, to bind up the demons that torture us, to give us the peace that goes beyond all the brokenness in our world. Jesus walks among the people of Galilee and he walks among us. Healing as he goes. Being the light in the darkness that clouds our sight. Giving us hope for the future of life eternal with God. Jesus healed.
This is what Matthew wants us to know. That Jesus came, was fully present, proclaimed the good news, and healed the people of Galilee. Because when Matthew continues the story with the calling of the disciples, there is an implication about the ministry that Jesus is doing for the disciples. Jesus tells Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, to follow him. To follow him on his walk. To follow him in his ministry. When we agree in our baptismal vows to follow in the apostle's teaching and fellowship, we are agreeing to be a part of the work of the first disciples in following Jesus. In following Jesus in his walk and in his ministry. Following Jesus in his ministry of presence, proclamation, and healing looks different for each of us because each of us have different gifts. However, these three are the underlying foundation for all of our ministry. We are called to be among the people of this world, not hiding away our faith, but sharing it through word and action. We are not called to be secret Christians, only following him for an hour or so one day a week. We are called to live as followers of Jesus everyday in every place. We are called to proclaim the good news, to share Jesus as we know him. We are called to bring healing to others, through our own gifts, through all the gifts of teaching, listening, studying, welcoming, organizing, praying, serving, speaking the truth, and all the other gifts the Holy Spirit gives us.
As Jesus called his disciples to follow him, Jesus is calling us to follow him. He knows the great darkness into which we may walk in this journey. He knows the great fears that may hold us back. He knows the occasional awkwardness of being present, the uncertainty of belief in the proclamation, the brokenness of the healing, and yet, he still calls us to follow him. To be the catalyst for someone else, to be light sharing God's love.
Let us go forth following Jesus!