I wonder if people will find our gospel reading difficult to relate to. It offers such wonderful things – a world encompassing ministry, miracles and healings, disciples dropping their nets to follow Jesus – but these things are so distant from our daily lives.

When you work all day during the week, have your children in school, and pay a mortgage on your home, how can you identify with the disciples who drop their nets to follow Jesus? Have you really left everything to follow Him? Certainly, the call of Jesus should manifest itself in some dramatic change in the circumstances of your life.

Upon closer reading, however, Matthew offers a careful correction to this thought. The point is not so much whether you can identify with the disciples but whether Jesus identifies with you.

Matthew begins with very specific details. A specific place: Capernaum. A specific prophecy: Isaiah. A specific proclamation: Repent. Specific disciples: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Such specificity is part of a much larger mission. Light shining in the darkness. Jesus proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing every disease. Great crowds following Jesus.

For me, the beauty of the beginning is precisely this juncture. The eternal reign of God breaks into our world in particulars. The ministry of Jesus had to start somewhere, and He chose to work from Capernaum. The death and resurrection of Christ will take away all boundaries. Sin, death, the Devil – nothing can separate people from God’s love. This means Jesus can enter any territory and call the place home. Jesus can go into any life and from that life bring discipleship.

In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus chooses to dwell (κατοικέω) in Capernaum. So much so that, later, Matthew says He comes back to, “His own city” (9:1). While Jesus indeed travels throughout the region of Galilee, there is a place He calls home. While the disciples indeed leave their family and fishing, later we find them eating in Simon Peter’s house (8:14). The world-encompassing mission begins with particular people in a particular place.

This is the wonder which is present in the calling of the disciples. Not how they drop their nets to follow Jesus, but that Jesus does not need to go far to find disciples. He chooses the people He lives among. Such is the power of His love.

Capernaum was a fishing village on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus lives in a city by the sea, we find Him walking on the shores of Galilee and interacting with laborers in their normal occupations. If He were in the financial district of New York, He would interact with people in the banking industry. If He were in the rural plains of Iowa, He would interact with farmers. Jesus calls those He lives among. He begins with specific people who live in a specific place. The power of God’s grace means He can bring anyone from any walk of life into His Kingdom.

This is the work God continues among us today. He chooses to begin with specifics: You. There was a specific day He made you His child. Perhaps it was when your pastor held your head over the baptismal font that your discipleship began. You did not leave your parents but grew up in the family. You learned how to follow Jesus even as you learned how to get along with your brothers. What matters here is not the drama of discipleship, dropping nets and leaving family, but the wonder of grace, God’s particular love.

A few years ago, I was on the road preaching. I came to a congregation where a former student was a pastor. After I preached, I was sitting around a table talking with members during coffee hour. I asked them how things were going. One member said, “Well, after the funeral, things really changed around here.” The pastor and his wife had lost a child. I imagined the loss of their child made ministry difficult for them and so I politely responded in a way that gave my former student as much latitude as possible. I said, “Losing a child is tragic. I’m sure things could get pretty rough.” The member looked at me and said, “No, you don’t understand. It was a horrible thing. Terrible. But you know, he buried his son in our graveyard. Ever since then, we knew that he was one of ours. He was going to stay.”

When you bury your child in someone’s graveyard, they know you are committed to calling this place your home. In mission, God our Father buried His child in our world, and we can be certain He has chosen to make this place with all its particulars His home.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 4:12-25.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 4:12-25.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 4:12-25.