Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
3rd Sunday of Epiphany
The Great Turning
Begin by using the Method as outlined
Share together in twos or threes your personal experiences of God calling you. This may include a calling to do something special.
Report back to the full group.
Reflection on the text
Jesus, just returned from temptation in the desert, finds Herod has arrested John. Times are dangerous, but he begins his own preaching ministry – in Galilee. Around Capernaum, under the harsh oppression of Roman rule, was ‘a people living in darkness’, a hotbed of oppression and injustice to the poor and needy. Where better to repeat John’s call for repentance in the new order of God – the kingdom of heaven?
So Jesus begins recruiting a small community of disciples from among the lakeside fishermen - an unpromising source of social outcasts ritually ‘unclean’, dealing as they did in blood and guts, yet Jesus clearly sees their potential as they throw in their lot with him.
They come to develop a new model of the common life. Later Jesus will entrust to them the continuation of his mission and lifestyle. But first of all, the priority is healing of body, mind and spirit and addressing injustice - the ills of poverty and exploitation.
‘Repentance’ (v17) is at the centre of Jesus’ message. In order to embrace the reign of God one must adopt a whole new way of seeing and a radical lifestyle based on the Sermon on the Mount. The fisherman had barely a clue what was ahead of them!
The call of Jesus takes us into community and into a lifestyle based on his teaching, with the Sermon on the Mount at its heart. Once the church joined up with the State it lost this basic sense of calling to live by Jesus’ teaching in community together.
One commentator has suggested that repentance is best thought about as recovery from addiction. For example, we live in an addicted society, addicted to consumeristic materialistic lifestyle which is destroying us. Turning around is not easy. It involves many steps.
- What is your experience of God’s call to discipleship? How did you know that it was from God? Was it confirmed by others in your local community, or was it purely private? Do you remember someone being called to ordained or other ministry in the church? How was that call identified? Is ‘calling’ is talked about enough in your community? Do you have a sense of calling as a community? How would you describe it?
- Why do we find it easier to say ‘Yes’ to the call of Jesus, yet getting on with fellow Christians can be more of a problem? How does our relationship with Christ affect the way we see and relate to one another?
- What is the secret of living God’s ‘new order’ in community with people who are different? How does belonging to a group with differences of race, ethnicity or social background enable you to live in a way that can be an example to society?
- How is repentance being worked out in your community? Is the idea of release from addiction helpful? What addictions do you see as most destructive for members of your community?
The co-ordinator says,
“We have been called together by Christ into community.”
“We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
“Go into the presence of Christ with someone on your heart.”
Pray for one another, by name. Really think about that person as someone called by Jesus.
Have a time of open prayer for particular concerns and issues raised by the discussion.
You may like to use the following prayer together.
Disturb us , O Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves;
When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little;
When we have arrived in safety because we sailed too close to the shore. Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly to venture seas where storms shall show your Mastery,
where losing sight of land we shall find the stars. We pray in the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow Him. Amen
Pray the Lord’s Prayer together.
End by exchanging the Peace with one other, as a prayer of blessing:
‘The peace of the Lord be always with you.’ ‘And also with you’
More background information
- The kingdom of heaven is the same as kingdom of God. Jews avoided using God’s name.
Jesus announced the end of the existing world order of domination, power and control where the poor are exploited and the earth desecrated. A new world order of love, peace and justice has come into being in Christ. In that ‘society’ all people are equal and power systems are turned upside down. No longer is there a chosen ‘race’ or chosen ‘place’ because all people and all creatures are precious and blessed. God’s kingdom embraces the whole human race and the habitat. The reign of God is about life before death rather than life after death. It’s about the quality of our relationships with each other and with the environment.
The Sermon on the Mount sets out the agenda for these relationships highlighting inclusiveness (especially of the oppressed poor and excluded), justice, compassion, gentleness, peace and equality.
Diarmud O’Murchu says:
In the world today, it seems to me that the Churches and religious systems are trapped in a whirlpool of ideology, idolatry and self-survival. By and large, they have lost sight of the Kingdom agenda.
By the same token, the Kingdom seems to be unfolding where it is least conspicuous (like the parabolic mustard seed), in those many and varied situations where people relate and "commune" at a depth that cries out for, and occasionally succeeds in birthing the new world order of justice, love and peace. This movement - amorphous and apparently chaotic at times - is the life-force that has birthed the Basic Christian Communities of Latin America, along with a plethora of similarly inspired movements - within and outside the Churches - right across the modern world.
If these base communities are to - not simply save - but revitalise our culture, they must, in a more audacious fashion, reclaim their Kingdom identity and biblical raison d'etre. To me, it seems of little consequence whether the communities are inside or outside the institutional Church. The critical question is: Are they fostering the building of Kingdom for the creation of a more just and loving world-order?
From an article by Diarmud O’Murchu entitled ‘The Kingdom of God’ and published in Compass Theology Review – volume and date unknown.
- The town of Capernaum on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was strategically placed town on the important and ancient international trade route known as the ‘the way to the sea’ (v15) between Damascus to the north and Egypt via Galilee and the Dead Sea to the south. Galilee, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, who was once governor of the province, had no fewer than 204 ‘villages’, none of which had below 15,000 inhabitants. It was a culturally mixed population in an area ‘up North’ despised by the more orthodox Jews of Jerusalem. ‘Galilee of the gentiles’ (v15) may be a derogatory description of the area and refer to pagan non-Jewish/Greek influence on local religious life and customs.
- In the reference in v16 (Isaiah 9.1-2), Galilee would have been a land of darkness. For 500 years, before the 2nd century BC, the area had been under foreign control after the Assyrian occupation in 734BC, and it was still an area where Greek language and culture, and Roman imperial power, held sway. But it is in just such an unlikely place, among the more despised people - where the orthodox religious would least expect God to act - that the light of Christ shone first.
- We recommend that your group has a good look at the issues surrounding Peak Oil, Climate Change and Environmental destruction. Peak Oil is probably the most important issue we face at this time requiring a radical change in lifestyle. There’s little time left to begin to live differently in anticipation of what is about to hit us.