Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Band of Brothers

Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was 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 fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.

Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. (Matthew 4:12-24)

There’s a great scene in the 1938 version of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” where Robin Hood meets a giant of a man named John Little on a log bridge over a stream. They challenge each other for the right to pass first and end up settling the matter with quarterstaffs. I won’t tell you how it turns out, you can rent it and see for yourself, but suffice it to say that “Little” John (played by Alan Hale - see picture*) becomes the first, and most trusted, of Robin’s “Merry Men.”

The recruiting of a band of brothers is a common aspect of many tales of a great quest. We see the same thing in “The Fellowship of the Ring” the first novel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The pattern is very much the same in each case; the Hero meets a person in his travels, and has a brief encounter during which the Hero finds some worthy trait in the new acquaintance, the hero then invites the individual to join him on the quest. The fact is though, all these adventures take their example from the calling of the disciples by Jesus as he sets out on his earthly ministry.

The one great difference is, unlike Robin Hood, Jesus knows the worth of the twelve before he calls them. There is no need to test their mettle; the quest (ministry) itself will do that soon enough. He knows their hearts already, all that remains is to ask them to follow and see their response. The remarkable thing is - in every account the disciple’s response is immediate – they follow.

In the Kingdom Gospel only the calling of the fishermen is included. As with Robin Hood, here we find a man named John, along with his brother James. They work together with their father Zebedee, mending nets, tending to the boats, hanging the fish to dry, all the tasks required of the family business. Then a stranger walks up to them and ustters a strange phrase, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." We are told they leave their nets and their father and follow the stranger to Capernaum. The same response as Peter and his brother Andrew; they leave their father Jonas and follow the Nazarene.

Considering the culture of the day, this is a remarkable thing. In first century Israel family is everything. To simply walk away leaving one’s family in the lurch was tantamount to treason. Imagine poor Zebedee’s reaction, that is his sons walking off down the beach. And not only is it his flesh and blood, the seed of his loins, but that’s his retirement plan walking away as well. What would your reaction be? Considering that from the perspective of his neighbours Jesus has abandoned his family to become an itinerant rabbi, one has to ask what kind of Kingdom is Jesus setting out to create? Is he questioning the value of the family and the reality of having to make a living?

In a word – Yes!

Or at the very least He is redefining them. One of the hardest things for many people to understand is that the Kingdom of God is not here to meet our needs. The truth is, we are here to meet the needs of the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom does not serve the family; the family is at its best when it serves the Kingdom. God’s goal is not to make us more effective at our careers; but rather, our work is most truly successful when it serves to express the will of God.

In the Gospel Kingdom, Peter and Andrew are still brothers, only now they are part of a much larger brotherhood. James and John are not only the sons of Zebedee, they are now the ‘sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:13-19), children of the Heavenly Father. They are all still fishermen, only now they fish for people to join the Kingdom. In this passage Jesus disrupts the structure of our families and the pattern of our lives, not to destroy them, but to transform them into something greater that will ultimately bring about the promised Kingdom.

And where is the first place that the Heir leads his band of ‘merry men’? To Syria - a Gentile nation next door to Israel. Jesus’ quest begins in an area where there are not just Jews, but a heavy Gentile population as well. His new home town of Capernaum is in the heart of an area of Israel where many Gentiles have made their home - "the Galilee of the Gentiles"(vs 15), living side by side with their Jewish neighbours. In this part of the world even the Sea of Galilee itself is known by another name, the sea of Tiberius (see John 21). This too is indicative of the nature of the kingdom that is to come. It will be a place where not just one nation, not just one people, but all of mankind is welcome.

Now, imagine with me once again the response of Matthew’s church upon hearing these things. Imagine the turmoil that is their own lives. Given the fact the ‘cult of the Nazarene’ is considered a threat by both the Jews and the Romans, it is likely that many of Matthew’s listeners have been estranged from their own families as well. They are popular with the servant and working classes, even with some of the nobility, but they are decried and even hunted by those in authority.

The prospect of martyrdom is not only a reality, but had to be considered before they even decided to follow this Jesus, this Jewish Messiah rejected by his own people. Would it have given them some comfort to know that it had been the same since the beginning? Would they have drawn encouragement from knowing that James and John, and Peter and Andrew had all left their lives behind as well to follow a the same path as they? I think so; and as storytellers we can draw this out in our telling and give encouragement to our listeners as well.

In the story of the calling of these four disciples, we see not only a representation of the calling of all the twelve, but the first glimpse of what the Gospel Kingdom will look like. We get our first hint at the revolution that is to come. A revolution that will be launched officially in our next episode as Jesus lays out for the people his “Kingdom Manifesto.”


Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 8

[* TUT (Totally Unrelated Trivia) - if the man in the picture looks a little familiar, but you have never seen the Errol Flynn classic, it’s likely because the actor’s son, Alan Hale Jr., played ‘The Skipper’ Jonas Grumby on the TV show Gilligan’s Island. Strong family resemblance, eh?]

No comments: