Friday, January 20, 2017

Resident Aliens: Reflections on Matthew 4.12-25 (RCL Proper 3A, 22 January 2017)

Resident Aliens
Reflections on Matthew 4.12-25

RCL Proper 3A
22 January 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

                  4.12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

                  15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

                  17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

                  18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen.  19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

                  23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.  24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.  25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

            Paula and I emigrated to Canada in 1987 and arrived on the 23rd of June at the Peace Arch border crossing with a nine-month-old David, two cats and Subaru station wagon filled with those belongings we thought we would need immediately.  For Paula and David it was the first time that they had ever left the United States.  For me it was the second time that I had emigrated from one country to another.

            I have learned something about myself in these migrations from one country to another.  Despite my very best efforts I am often reminded that I am homeless.  For example, although I have lived longer in Metro Vancouver than I have ever lived in any other single location, I am occasionally reminded by others, unintentionally for the most part, that I am, after all, an immigrant.  When I am in Toronto, my central Canadian friends unintentionally remind me that I am very much a British Columbian in my perspective on things.  And on those increasingly rare occasions when I travel to visit family in the United States, I am deeply aware of being a Canadian.  My identity seems often to be something that emerges in relationship to someone or somewhere else rather than someone I am no matter where I go.

            Twenty-seven years ago Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, well-known and widely respected Christian theologians, published a book entitled Resident Aliens:  Life in the Christian Colony.  The basic premise of the book is that we who follow Jesus of Nazareth as our Lord and Saviour are resident aliens in the consumer culture we call North America.  To be a resident alien does not mean that we do not care about the well-being of our fellow citizens nor that we do not involve ourselves in the political process.  Because we are resident aliens, we are vitally concerned about transforming any unjust structure that denies the full human dignity of any child of God.  But our fundamental identity is as a follower of Jesus and this identity means that we are wary of calling any nation state, any political entity, any region home.

            Think for a moment about today’s reading from the Gospel according to Matthew.  I often find myself thinking about poor Zebedee.  Here he is, doing the best he can to feed his family and to pay the taxes demanded of him by Rome, by local authorities and by the temple priests in Jerusalem.  He may think himself fortunate to have two sons whom he hopes will work with him in the present, take care of him in the future and provide him with grandchildren to perpetuate the family name.  But what happens to Zebedee and his hopes?  Along comes Jesus, this newcomer from Nazareth who’s just moved into the neighbourhood in nearby Capernaum.  With just two words follow me, Zebedee’s world is turned upside down and he is literally left holding the nets in his hands while his sons traipse off.  Perhaps Zebedee even thinks it’s a bit ominous that Jesus tells his sons that he will make them fish for people.  It’s bad enough that Zebedee’s world has been shattered; this southern immigrant is threatening to do the same to others!

            Perhaps Zebedee and the family of Andrew and Peter realize the danger that their sons have embraced without any thought about the consequences.  People are hungry and Jesus feeds them.  People are sick and Jesus heals them.  People are possessed by evil and Jesus frees them.  People are oppressed and Jesus talks about freedom.  These are deeds and words that are not likely to go unnoticed by those powerful persons who benefit from the hunger, the disease, the mental illness and the oppression of others.  These powerful people will see Jesus for what he is:  a danger to the status quo and a rallying point for all those who seek to bring about God’s reign of justice and peace.

            Throughout the Gospel according to Matthew we read about the efforts of the powerful to control the quiet revolution of Jesus.  Some try to co-opt him by inviting him to dinner and by engaging him in theological conversation.  Others try to trap him into doing or saying something that will either discredit him and lead to his arrest.  And in the end, the Temple authorities in Jerusalem will collude with Herod and Pontius Pilate to murder Jesus judicially.

            In some ways Jesus is the archetypical resident alien.  Jesus knows, just as his first disciples and we know, that there is something wrong with the way things are.  Jesus knows, just as his first disciples and we know, that we have been created in the image of God and with the capacity to grow into the likeness of God rather than mere consumers to be bought.  Jesus knows, just as his first disciples and we know, that we are pilgrims on a journey.  We spend our lives moving from one oasis to another, enjoying the gifts each oasis offers, but knowing that our destiny is not to dwell in any one of them for eternity.

            Friends, many people have been troubled by the outcome of the presidential election in the United States and by the inauguration of a president who have shown himself to be the most divisive person to hold this office in my lifetime.  For me and, I am sure, for many others, he is a reminder that we are resident aliens who ‘seek a better country’, a country that transcends geography, a country that we only see partially, a country whose advent we await in hope.

            In these mean times we shall follow Jesus as he leads us toward the home we promised.  In these mean times we shall help reveal this promised home

  • by feeding the hungry, both in body and soul;
  • by healing the sick, whether in body and soul;
  • by resisting evil, at home and abroad;
  • by confronting injustice, whatever disguise it uses.

We, resident aliens on ‘this fragile earth, our island home’, know something that others may not.  Who we are and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus cannot be expressed by 140 characters in a Tweet.  It can only be expressed taking the risk of overturning the ‘common sense’ of the world’s powers and raising up the ‘common good’ of the commonwealth of God.

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