Monday, September 26, 2016

26 September 2016
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:42-44 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Friday we saw Jesus introduce His public ministry by casting out a demon in a Capernaum synagogue. Today-same day in our story-Jesus leaves the synagogue for Simon’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law is suffering with a high fever. Jesus rebukes the fever and it leaves her. Totally cured, she gets up and begins to serve her guests. Jesus has now demonstrated His authority in two crucial areas-over demons, and over illness.
            AS a result, after sundown-the official end of the Jewish Sabbath day-Jesus is swamped with everyone around who needed cured. His response is to “[lay] His hands on each of them and [cure] them” (v.40). Two very important things are happening here. First, Jesus is giving each one who comes personal attention. Second, He cures everyone who comes; no one is turned away. This is the good news of the Kingdom of God: it is personal, and it is available to everyone who comes.
            The next day Jesus begins what will become a habitual practice-rising early and departing to a deserted place. Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus was up to but I suspect it had to do with a strong desire to be alone with the Father. What they might have been doing together is a good thought exercise-a good subject for meditation. What do you do when you are alone with God? Sometimes we all just need to recharge; sometimes we all just need to say ‘I can’t do anymore, just let me be alone with you for a time’. Silence and solitude are easy to want, hard to get (and good disciplines too, by the way).
            At any rate, the crowds find Him and try to prevent Him from leaving. Having been cured, they would keep Jesus for themselves; by doing so they would prevent others from knowing Jesus. So, here’s a question for us today-are we keeping Jesus for ourselves, or are we sharing Him with everyone we come across? By asking (sometimes manipulating or even demanding) God to bless our plans, will we prevent others from knowing Jesus? Are we opening the gates or standing guard, waiting to hear the secret code before we admit anyone? Jesus says “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (v.43). Proclaim, not hide or offer as a reward or bargain away. Later on Jesus will tell his disciples ‘freely you have received, freely you must give’.
            Chapter five begins a series of narratives describing things Jesus does to ‘bring the Kingdom home’, so to speak. They may be in historical order; they may not. I don’t think that’s important here. What is important is what Jesus actually does; remember, He is God revealing Himself. With this in mind, looking at the story of Simon and the miraculous catch, what do we see? The catch itself is the ‘hook’-it captures our attention (it certainly captured Peter’s). Peter’s response is often uses as an example of a ‘proper response’ before God-“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’ which is no doubt true for us as well.
             But that isn’t what I want to focus on. Jesus responds with “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people” (vs.10, Italics mine). Here is the point-Jesus intends to use people to spread the good news. Not just people, sinful, imperfect people. Jesus did not say to Peter ‘I know-go away and don’t come back till you are no longer sinful’. He said ‘do not be afraid’. He is saying the same thing to us today and He is also saying do not make others afraid either. This isn’t a catch-and-release program where only the big ones are keepers.
            I believe understanding the inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God is not only the most important thing we can do; it is also the only thing that will successfully overcome the fear and anger rampant in this country and in our world today. Remember, Jesus was not a successful white American male who had all His theological ducks in a row. He was a Palestinian Jew from the other side of the world who would be judged a failure and a fraud by all the relevant power structures of His day. Yet here we are, two thousand years later, still called to demonstrate His Kingdom and invite people in.
            Today, if you are out and about, when you encounter someone obviously different from yourself, try to imagine how your life would be enriched by having them as a member of your family. If you are not out and about, try to spend a few minutes in silence before God and ask Him to give you a vision of His Kingdom as a worldwide Kingdom; a vision of His church as one big worldwide family. Either way, whatever insight you receive, be sure to pass it on.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be you all this day. JRG


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