Here are my thoughts for this morning, the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany.
And Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News.” (1)
There are some today who really want to hear that proclamation, for they believe the time of the Second Coming is at hand and they are going to be swept up in the rapture and taken directly into heaven. But I think that many of these individuals are going to be in for a very rude awakening when that happens.
If one focuses solely on this passage today, they are likely to forget what transpired before hand and they are likely to forget what they will encounter when they approach the final judgment. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (2)
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (3)
We are reminded that when the final judgment does come, we are going to be faced with a series of questions.
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (4)
I keep thinking that many of those who would welcome the coming of Christ are going to be confused by the questions that they are asked. “What do you mean that I was supposed to take care of the sick and the homeless; what do you mean that I was to feed the hungry and visit the lonely?” Did it not mean anything to you that I kept your church clean and that I kept the “riff-raff” and the undesirables out of the church? Did it not mean something that I tried to make the Law the way of the land, even when I and the pastors that taught me the Law didn’t always follow it? Did I not invoke the name of God when I sought to destroy other countries where the people did not believe in you? How is it that you are telling me now that all that I have done is worthless?
It is one thing to obey the Law but it is another thing to live the Law. And just as John the Baptist had proclaimed before Jesus, Jesus proclaims that now is the time to repent. To repent doesn’t just mean that you stop doing what you are doing; it means to change what you are doing, it means to change the direction of your life.
In calling for people to repent Jesus was heralding a new order, a new way of life. If you are to be a part of this new order, you must undergo a fundamental transformation in your life. This new order is so radically different that we must be spiritually remade before we are ready and equipped to participate in it.
That is why the people of Nineveh were ultimately destroyed. When warned by Jonah that they had forty days in which to change their lives, they did so and God changed His mind about the calamity that He envisioned for the city. The people of Nineveh did as Jonah told them to do; they repented of their past and God forgave them and removed the threat of destruction. It is noted in most of the commentaries that Jonah wasn’t happy about this, believing that anyone who proclaims destruction should complete what they set out to do. But God points out that it is entirely within His prerogative to show mercy to those who repent of their ways. And that is the lesson from Jonah. (5)
But later on, in the Book of Nahum (6), we read that the people of Nineveh have fallen back to their old sinful, corrupted ways. And thus God destroys Nineveh, not because God is a vengeful God but rather because the people of Nineveh, having been warned of the consequences, returned to the old ways of life. If you repent, you cannot go back to your old way of life.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians illustrate this point. (7) If you led a life that is focused on what you have now, then you can never move forward. The call to enter the Kingdom of God means leaving all you have behind. Jesus called people to follow Him. The first disciples took Him quite literally, leaving their families and responsibilities behind. This was no easy choice, to give up an established livelihood and the symbol of their identity for something unknown. But in doing so, they would become the disciples of Jesus and would be bound to Him and His Kingdom. Their lives would never be the same again. They made a choice; this choice had consequences.
Remember that Peter, the leader of the twelve will die in Rome, crucified upside down. Andrew, Peter’s brother, will also die by crucifixion in southern Greece on a X-shaped cross. James, one of the “sons of thunder” will be beheaded. Philip will die a martyr’s death in Turkey. Bartholomew (or Nathanael) is rumored to have died in either Armenia or India by beheading after being skinned alive. Thomas is said to have died in southern India. Matthew (or Levi) is said to have died in either Ethiopia or Persia. James (referred to as James the Less) died a martyr’s death in Egypt. Jude (or Thaddeus) was killed in Persia along with Simon the Zealot. Judas Iscariot died of his own hand after betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only John, the other “son of thunder”, died a natural death, though in exile on the island of Patmos. It is for certain that none of the twelve knew what the outcome of their ministry would be when they started; they had to know they were not likely to return to the lives they lead.
So the call is made to each of us today. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and Jesus is calling upon each of us to repent of our present lives and follow him. It is a path marked by uncertainty but it is a path in which the outcome is certain.
It is a path that we can begin to walk today. It is a path that is marked by the proclamation of the Good News, “the prisoners will be set free, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the poor will know that there is hope in a world which offers none.” These are the tasks that Jesus asks us to undertake as we follow him. Will you follow Jesus; will you repent and lead the new life that you are called to lead this day?
- Mark 1: 14 – 15
- Isaiah 61: 1, 2
- Luke 4: 17 – 21
- Matthew 25: 31 – 46
- Jonah 3: 1 – 5, 10
- Nahum 1:7 – 15
- 1 Corinthians 7: 29 – 31