Blog / Book of the Month / Caught in the Net / Matthew 4:12–25 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 22nd 2023 / Season of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Caught in the Net / Matthew 4:12–25 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 22nd 2023 / Season of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Caught in the Net / Matthew 4:12–25 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 22nd 2023 / Season of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 22nd 2023: Season of Epiphany / Matthew 4:12–25 "Caught in the Net"

Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

          “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,

                 the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

         the people dwelling in darkness

                 have seen a great light,

         and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,

                 on them a light has dawned.”    

         From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon (who is 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. And 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.

And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them. And great crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Our Gospel has a very familiar passage in it, the one where Jesus says to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” So today we will consider what this means, but also the second and central part of that familiar verse where Jesus ‘makes’ them fishers of men.

Keeping this in mind, perhaps the way our Gospel starts out might seem like a bit of a non sequitur, like something that just doesn’t logically follow. The passage starts with John the Baptizer arrested and Jesus heading north of the Jordan River to the Sea of Galilee in the region formerly called the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali but why? Is it to avoid being put in jail like John the Baptizer? Or is there more going on here?

Clearly geography links the Sea of Galilee with the former region of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali that Saint Matthew mentions in this passage but how is Jesus living there in Capernaum by the Sea a fulfillment of the promises of God? Why are the people of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali referred to as “people dwelling in darkness” as people “dwelling in the region and shadow of death?” Apart from geography why would the people in our Gospel be associated with these Old Testament people, and maybe a bigger question is this, ‘could we be associated with them?’ and ‘What does this have to do with the rest of this reading?’ ‘What does it have to do with Jesus calling His disciples?’ 

As Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee the whole region at that time was part of the Roman Empire, a corner of the Roman province of Palestine, but at the time of King David in the Old Testament it was the Kingdom of Israel. And when David’s son King Solomon died it was still a united Kingdome and the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the twelve tribes of Israel within that Kingdome. King Solomon’s son Rehoboam when he became king of Israel, upon his father’s death, was asked by the people, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”[1]  So Rehoboam, “took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him ... and he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” And the young men who had grown up with [Rehoboam] said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your [hard labour]. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”[2]

This, as you might imagine, was the beginning of the end for the united Kingdome of Israel and quickly the North broke away from the Southern Kingdom, and the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali were in that Northern Kingdom which refused to follow Rehoboam. The Northern Kingdom of Israel grew more and more wicked over time, continually lured into false worship, and eventually after a couple hundred years had elapsed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali were destroyed by the Assyrians along with the rest of the Northern Kingdom and those who were not killed were dragged off into captivity never to return. And so the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali can be called a region of death, a place of shadow and darkness. For a couple hundred years God was patient with them, with their kings, with their false worship, with their sin, always extending gift of repentance and opportunities to turn from their ways, but the people of those lands would not follow God. And now in our Gospel reading Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, begotten not made being of one substance with the Father, the King of kings and Lord of lord’s anointed in the Jordan River by Baptism, the one for whom the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and remained, the one to whom God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”[3] this one, their true King, comes now to that very region of death, that place of shadow and darkness as their true King as the Light of World preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In those words God the Father, through His Son Jesus, invites these formerly rebellious lands to turn back to Him again and to follow Him once more.

That dear ones is the big picture of the Lord fulfilling His promises, remember how our Old testament reading starts, “In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”[4] God the Father has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations by sending forth His Son Jesus to preach His holy Word, forgive the sins of the people, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. This is the one who calls out to Simon Peter and Andrew fishing in their boat on the Sea of Galilee, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus being there at all was a call to the whole nation to follow Him, Jesus speaking to those brothers was a personal call to follow Him, and you dear ones are called to follow Him. You may live in a land that has turned away — is turning away — from following Jesus, yet our Church and the preaching of God’s Word, our administration of the Means of Grace in the Sacraments of font and altar are a call for all people to follow Jesus. Your sitting here today, your listening to these words, is a call to follow Jesus, to continue to follow Him, to be men and women and children who do not follow the World in rebellion, who do not follow the desires of your own heart, your likes and creature comforts, but rather to belong to Christ Jesus, to be ones no longer caught in the net of the World but in the net that Jesus casts with His Holy Word and Sacraments.

Our independent rebellious nature bristles at this. We don’t like the idea of being caught up in something, we want to make measured decisions we want to think our way ‘in to,’ or for that matter, ‘out of’ everything and anything. The idea that the Holy Spirit by the World or God, the Word of Christ could catch you in such a way that you belong to Jesus might catch you off guard. When we hear this we are tempted to immediately pivot, we want to read ourselves into this account of Jesus calling His disciples in such a way that we are the fishermen and not the fish. We imagine ourselves to be Peter and Andrew, James and John, we don’t see ourselves as the people that Jesus makes Peter and Andrew, James and John fishers of. We don’t, at first, see ourselves as the fish in the net.

What is a net for anyway? Nets are for catching things; the fowler uses nets to catch birds the fisherman uses nets for catching fish. Of course in our day window cleaners hanging from the side of skyscrapers and gymnast and acrobats use nets to catch them when they are falling, the net for them becomes a rescue from death. Through history and even today fish and birds caught in nets are generally being hunted for food, but the net that Jesus casts, the net His disciples and apostles, pastors and preachers cast is a net that does not bring death, this net is a net like the net that the window cleaners on skyscrapers and gymnast and acrobats trust with their life, Jesus’ net saves lives in danger of death.

For three years leading up to His crucifixion Jesus takes Peter and Andrew, James and John and the rest of His disciples and makes them into men prepared to cast a net of life, to pull out of the sea of death into the boat of the Church those who were perishing. In His life, death and resurrection Jesus was teaching them, making them into this kind of fisherman. As we heard in the Epistle the eloquent Appolos[5] and the meat and potatoes preacher Saint Paul are likewise both fishermen for Christ Jesus and a little further along into 1 Corinthians you’ll hear Saint Paul ask, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul?” then Paul gives the answer, “[He and Apollos are] servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted [Paul says and], Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”[6] We’re getting our metaphors a little muddled up here but perhaps you could think of it like this Paul casts the net into the sea and Apollos pulls the net up out of the water into the boat, but it is Jesus’ net and it is Jesus who has made them the kind of fishermen that bring life and not death to the ones they haul into the boat of the church.

Let’s return to Rehoboam, had he been as wise as his father King Solomon, had he been as repentant as his grandfather King David or as content as his great-grandfather the patriarch Jesse, Rehoboam would have been a good king but instead Rehoboam and his childhood friends couldn’t deal with the idea that they might have to get by with less or live a less luxurious life, or personally find fulfilment in hard physical work. Rehoboam was caught in a net of prosperity and a fear of losing his wealth; he couldn’t abide the thought of suffering even a small rollback. As a king Rehoboam and the account of his life and the sad aftermath that follows becomes an example of two wrongs not making a right. It was not right for the kingdom to split over Rehoboam’s failure to trust the LORD and it was not right for the people to go their own way without trusting that the LORD will correct a wayward king, remove him or maybe even use him to teach humility and patience to a people. “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[7] Neither the people nor Rehoboam trusted this. 

A little later in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, “a scribe came up and said to [Jesus], “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”[8] Saint Paul teaches us about this Jesus saying, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”[9] Jesus the Son of God and Son of Man, unlike Rehoboam was, is and ever shall be a faithful King, faithful to His heavenly Father, trusting and willing to suffer loss for your gain. In His passion and crucifixion Jesus allowed Himself to be caught in the snare of the fowler,[10] He allowed the net of your sin to be cast over Him at the cross, and for that net to drag him into the shadow of death, deep into the waters of death, into destruction so that He who had no sin of His own[11] would make the net of death into a net of life. Every knot in the net that Jesus casts is tied with faith hope and love; this is not the menace of discipline with scorpions that Rehoboam threatened. Jesus’ net now lifts you out of the jaws of death and keeps you from falling into the fires of hell. King Rehoboam was not interested in suffering even a little bit of discomfort let alone dying for the people in their place, he is not saviour: Jesus is. And Jesus makes His fishermen into men charged with the task of casting that net.    

The ones who cast the net, the ones who are in the net, all belong to Jesus, we are each His servants, we may have different responsibilities in life but we are all His. He is our Good King; He is our True Light in the darkness and the shadow of death. So whether we have been made to cast the net or we are in it[12] we can pray, “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This is how Jesus calls us to follow Him. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 1 Kings 12:4
[2] 1 Kings 12:6–11
[3] Matthew 3:17
[4] Isaiah 9:1
[5] Acts 18:24
[6] 1 Corinthians 3:5–9
[7] Romans 13:1b
[8] Matthew 8:19–22
[9] 2 Corinthians 8:9
[10] Psalm 91:3; Psalm 124:7
[11] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[12] All Christians are in the net, some (the disciples and apostles of old and the clergy of today) are also tasked with casting the net.  

Photo Credit: Main Photo detail of two fish in net from pexels; detail of two fishermen in boat from pexels; tinted detail of sculpture of Jesus healing the sick Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, France from pixabay; tinted detail of scupture of the crowned head of a king from pexels; detail of scorpions from pixabay; photo of men fishing on the Sea of Galilee from Pr. Ted Giese; detial of three empty fishing boats from pexels; detail of man casting fishing net from boat from pexels; detail of colorful fishing nets from pexels; fish from pexels; tinted detail of sculpture of Jesus crucified from pexels; detail of crucifix of Jesus by the sea from pexels.