Most of the gospel readings this year will be from Matthew’s story of Jesus. As with any story, it is best to read it from beginning to end and that takes about two hours. While the main character is Jesus, there are other characters and character groups.
The invitation to us as readers is to enter into the drama of the story, to get inside the characters and character groups, to listen to the teachings of Jesus and experience his healing touch. In the passage selected for today, the Matthean Jesus makes his appearance as a great light that has arisen in Galilee of the Gentiles. He is light for a people who have lived in darkness and the shadow of death and oppression.
In the context of Roman imperial rule, the Matthean Jesus offers hope of an alternative reign. He invites his hearers to turn their lives around, to ‘repent’ for the empire or reign ‘of the heavens’ has come near or is ‘at hand’.
He then calls four fishermen to follow him, to join him on his mission of proclaiming the empire or reign ‘of the heavens’. The verb ‘to follow’ is used metaphorically. It is an invitation to live out in their lives the pattern of Jesus’ life. They ‘immediately’ leave their boat and their father and follow him.
Later in the story we find they still have their boat, an indication that the story is to be read symbolically. Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from family expectations for the sake of the gospel. Sometimes we have to decentre our material possessions even if they remain integral to the work of the mission.
One might get the impression that the alternative community Jesus forms around him is all male. We have to go to the end of the gospel to find that there are also women who have ‘followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him’ (Matt 27:55).
A little passage in Matt 18 indicates that there are children on the journey as well. There is a much more extended group around Jesus than today’s reading suggests. Women, men, and children, we are all invited to turn our lives around and leave behind whatever gets in the way of bringing the empire ‘of the heavens’ into our world.