Monday, January 16, 2017

Smugness Revisited

Last week, when I read the gospel lesson for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (John 1:29-42), I chuckled to myself. I had preached the week before on Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17), but that next Sunday's passage was basically the same story told in John's gospel account. It wasn't my week to preach, so I chuckled halfway sympathetically and halfway triumphantly at my colleague who now had to craft a sermon on something the congregation had already heard just a week earlier. Well, now he's laughing because we're back in Matthew for another round of the same thing all over again.

On the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, we will read Matthew 4:12-23, which, among other things, details Jesus' calling of Andrew and Simon as well as James and John. That, of course, was the second half of yesterday's gospel lesson. And this repeated repetition has me wondering: is there a reason why the lectionary authors are moving this slowly?

The overlaps are astounding:
  • Week One: Jesus' Baptism
  • Week Two: Jesus' Baptism Revisited + Calling of Andrew and Simon
  • Week Three: Calling of Andrew and Simon
It's as if we really, really need to hear about the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Forgive me if I'm ready to move past the first chapter. And, if I'm in a rush and the lectionary authors are forcing me to slow down, then I had better pay attention.

No, next week isn't another recap. It's the Beatitudes. So what is this week all about? Why are we being asked to linger here?

Did you notice the other connection with John the Baptist in this gospel lesson? After Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went back to Galilee and established a home in Capernaum. Matthew offers a bit about prophetic fulfillment--"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali..."--but it's the bit after that that catches my eye today. "From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, 'Repent, for the kingdom has come near.'" Wait a minute! That's John the Baptist's line. Is Jesus picking up where John left off?

It seems that he has. And this is an opportunity for me to rethink the shape of Jesus' ministry. In Year C, Jesus spent all his time with outcasts and sinners. But implicit in all of those encounters was a call to repentance. Jesus meets these people for transformation. In Year A, we see Matthew draw that out more clearly. Really, we still haven't gotten anywhere. We're still stuck in the beginning of Jesus' ministry, but hearing him shape his ministry as a successor to John--one who calls the world to repent--is an invitation to see the good news of Jesus Christ as an opportunity to turn around and start over. This is rebirth. This is repentance.

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