Between Sundays for Week of January 23, 2023
Sunday’s gospel marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew tells us that Jesus has made a home in Capernaum in order to fulfill Isaiah’s words – “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.”
Pastor Amy reflected on the significance of this word, “Gentiles,” in her sermon on Sunday, a word that requires a little Greek. The word that our Bible translates as “Gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos, which is related to English words like ethnic or ethnicity. Brian Stoffregen, a Lutheran Pastor and biblical scholar, says that the word ethnos takes on a meaning of “those who are not us.”
So if you were a 1st century Jew ethnos referred to the Gentiles – those who were not Jewish.
If you are believer in the early church, ethnos referred to pagans or non-believers.
If you are a man, ethnos is woman.
If you are an American, ethnos refers to people from other nations of our world.
Whatever group you consider yourself to be a part of, ethnos refers to those who are not included in that group.
At the beginning and at the end Sunday’s gospel reading, Matthew tells us that Jesus’ ministry begins and takes root in Galilee, among the Gentiles, among those who are not like Jesus.
In scripture, again and again we read stories of how Jesus reaches out to people not like him, and gives them light and life and healing. In Sunday’s gospel we realize that it’s to this ministry of teaching and preaching and healing among Gentiles, among those not like us, that Jesus calls disciples to follow.
Jesus’ call to discipleship is more than a call to follow a moral compass or look to him for good principles for living. Jesus’ calls us to bring good news to those not like us – to those who make us uncomfortable and to those who we’d rather turn away from than engage.
This is a particularly challenging teaching for churches, like ours, who have a long history of creating an environment of welcome and acceptance for folks who are like us – folks who share our language, or our background, or our traditions – but have struggled to learn to live with the discomfort that comes with expanding our community to include those who are not like us, those who come with different traditions, who know different songs, whose preferences challenge our own.
The start of Jesus ministry and the call of the disciples reveals that we have arrived at the end of business as usual. Will we pull back into our familiar comforts? Or will we allow those not like us to break into our space . . . our lives . . . our vision . . . our understanding? We have nothing to fear. Jesus is with us, calling us to follow where he leads.
Jesus begins his public ministry in today’s gospel by proclaiming the good news and calling disciples. It might seem like business as usual for what we’ve come to expect of Jesus, until we dig in and realize that Jesus’ ministry takes place among the Gentiles — known by the Greek word ethnos. Amy explores the meaning of ethnos and suggests that one way to understand this word is “those who are not us.” Jesus’ call to follow him is an invitation to bring good news to those who are not like us, to those who make us uncomfortable and to those who we’d rather turn away from than engage. Business as usual is over. Jesus is calling us into a new way.
It’s worth thinking about that Jesus doesn’t say to the first disciples, “Believe in this way of thinking, and follow me” or “Sign on to this cause, and follow me.” He simply says, “Follow me.” The sheer minimalism of the call is striking. It may signal that while beliefs and behavior do play a role in disicpleship, they are not really the heart of the matter; rather, walking alongside Jesus is the heart of the matter: listening, reflecting, learning, and listening again. For the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the most remarkable thing about Jesus’ call is that it’s “void of all content.” There’s no program here, no platform, no set of opinions or list of rules. Only a call to companionship, to closeness, to living together as we walk toward heaven’s reign. Follow me.
From Salt Project Commentary