Isaiah 8, 23 – 9, 3 + Psalm 27 + 1 Corinthians 1, 10-13, 7 + Matthew 4, 12-23
January 22, 2017 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
The key to unlocking the message of this text and the discovery of what Jesus is doing and asking lies in that word “repent”, but there is a problem. That English word, “repent” lacks the strength or the power of what Jesus was asking for and expecting. The original word, metanoia carries with it a much greater force than “repent” which can be watered down to simply mean being sorry or correcting one’s ways. Jesus is not asking that. In fact, that almost trivializes his life and his message to think that he became flesh and died just to get us to be sorry for our sins and try to do better. He wants way more than that. He wants metanoia! Without it there can be no Kingdom of Heaven.
What he asks of those men in these verses today he still asks of us, and we need to pay attention to what happens to them, and then measure our response accordingly. When it says that they stopped what they were doing, put down everything, and walk away from what they were doing, it means just that; a complete alteration of what they did and who they were. They might have stayed where they were and hung out with Jesus part time. They might have even become friends with him, but that isn’t what happened for them, and it is not what must happen with us. Jesus was not their “friend”. He became their Lord, and with that choice they experienced metanoia.
What we have here is an invitation to a new kind of existence, a different reality. Jesus called this the “Reign of God”. Matthew called it the “Kingdom of Heaven”. This is not a place. It is a way of being, a way of feeling, a way of looking at ourselves, at things and at other people. It is a way of life. The only description we have of this is the very life and work of Jesus. Look at what he did: forgive, heal, reconcile, feed, comfort, and love. In other words, Jesus made things the way they ought to be. An encounter with Jesus was an encounter with the way God desired, willed, and created this life to be in the beginning. The people Jesus met in this way did more than repent. They were totally different because of him, and their lives were never the same.
So, this metanoia is not something you do. It is something accomplished or achieved by being open to it. When the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God is offered by God, there is a decision to be made. That is what we do. We decide to believe what is offered, and we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord, not as a friend, or some prophet, or some healing do-gooder. Jesus is Lord! That is a decision we make based upon what we have seen and heard. We have to decide to believe. This is what we are hearing about in this Gospel today. Those apostles achieved metanoia because when it was offered, they made the most important decision of their lives. They believed what Jesus offered, accepted him as Lord, and left behind everything that looked like a normal life.
This is the greatest obstacle to metanoia. The biggest adversary Jesus faced was not demons or the Romans or the Scribes and Pharisees. It was an attitude of helplessness submission to things the way they were and always had been. It was that nagging belief that nothing ever changes, that heaven might be different, but nothing on this earth will ever change. Sometimes that attitude gets dressed up to look like an odd kind of piety that counsels a virtue of patience and acceptance. That thinking is a greater threat to metanoia than any persecution. In walking away from their boats and their nets, those apostles opened themselves up to what Jesus offered. Rather than catch food, they were ready to become food, to nourish the hungry by their lives. Rather than stay in one place with one family, they would receive a hundred times more, and why should we think that they left their wives and children behind. It doesn’t really say that. I like to think they brought them along sharing their decision and their vision of life with them.
Each of us must decide that our faith is more than just a nice idea or a theory not yet tried. We must decide that it is more than just a comfort when times are hard. The following of Christ is not a sideline; it is the only thing that makes sense of life which is why so many think so little of life itself. They have not followed the Lord. The metanoia to which we are called transforms us into everything we could possibly be that is good and is holy. The metanoia to which we are called begins when we choose to be what God made us to be and live the way God made us to live, holy and righteous in His sight, generous and blameless, peacemakers, forgivers, healers, reconcilers, and people of love without hate, anger, jealousy, or selfishness. That is a whole new way of looking at ourselves and of standing before one another. It is the way into and the very definition of the Reign of God.