In three of the four gospels, Jesus begins his ministry saying the same thing, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Now, I bet if I were to ask you to define the word repent, I guess many of you would say it means - getting rid of your sins, or being more moral, stop doing bad things. For most of my life, repent was a scary word - fraught with shame and guilt and fear. It’s not our fault. Most of us were taught this at a very early age.
The problem began way back when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin.
St. Jerome translated the Greek word “Metanoia” as “due penance” which eventually evolved into the word repent. But is that what Jesus intended? I’m not a Greek scholar, but if we were to parse metanoia, we’d learn “meta” means “to go beyond” and “noia” means “mind.”
The most literal way to translate this specific word Jesus uses would be to say “to go beyond your mind.” Which I have translated it as, “change your mind.”
Instead of creating a fear-based action, Jesus begins by offering us invitations to transform ourselves to move beyond our limited thinking into something bigger and greater than ourselves…the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is more than simply saying stop sinning. Instead, Jesus is saying put your focus where it ought to be so sinning is no longer a part of the equation.
Jesus knows if you can go beyond yourself, to make it about God and not you, then not only will you be transformed but you will also participate in the transformation of others as well.
Which takes us to the second part of this reading, back to Andrew and Simon - the two brothers we met last week.
According to John’s gospel, the two first met Jesus by following after him. But here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus comes to them. The men aren’t there to learn from John the Baptist, like we read last week. They are there to work, to fish. That’s what they do. They’re fishermen, like James and John and their father Zebedee, and all the others who are there hurling their nets into the sea.
Fishing is something these guys are familiar with, something they could probably do with their eyes closed. That’s not to say casting a net doesn’t take a certain skillset.
As a kid, I used to fish this way with friends. But our nets were single user for smaller catches. Their nets were large and required the hands of many to work right. It was like a rhythmic group dance. Once you got the hang of it, once everyone synced to that rhythm, the rest was pretty much routine. And leave it up to Jesus to interrupt their routine.
He stands at the water’s edge and calls out to these guys in a way that might sound more like a joke than anything else. “Come with me, and I will make you a new kind of fisherman. I will show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” (The Message)
I think most of us would have ignored this crazy call; pretending to be too busy with work to take him up on this job offer. But these four of those fishermen don’t. There’s something about Jesus that causes them to change their minds. As a result, Jesus will forever change the direction of their lives.
Where traditional rabbis would sit around waiting for disciples to come to them, Rabbi Jesus goes out and finds his own. He sets his mind not on himself but on what God has called him to do - to go out into the world and usher in the kingdom of heaven.
And where the other rabbis would pick from the brightest students at rabbinical school, Jesus goes to the docks, into everyday spaces, and selects ordinary people like you and me.
I have no idea what made Jesus choose these four. Or what made them drop their nets and take this giant leap of faith. If my own experience means anything, there’s a great chance these guys were not ready or equipped for what Jesus was about to ask of them.
The truth is, none of us are ready. That’s okay. Jesus does not stand on the shoreline collecting resumes or inquiring about their skillsets. He’s not walking the docks checking references, “because their personal history and qualifications don’t have the last word about their future.” He does. (Hoffacker)
All that we are asked to do at this point is to change the way think by taking the focus off ourselves, off our worries and our fears, and set our gaze on the One who calls out to us.
Jesus is the One who ushers in the kingdom of heaven. He is the One who invites us to participate. And he is the One who shows us what to do. It begins by simply follow him. Seeing what he does and going out to do just that.
We don’t have to be the biggest, the brightest, or even the bravest. As we will see unfold in their early ministry, these brothers rarely get it right. Simon, who will become Peter, has a quick temper and will go on to betray Jesus.
James and John are constantly conniving their way to the top despite Jesus repeatedly telling them that the kingdom way is not upward mobility, it’s downward. We don’t hear much more about Andrew after this. Maybe because he played it safe.
Despite of their faults, Jesus invites them to become partners in his ministry. This tells me that we’re good enough to be in partnership with Christ who opens our eyes to see the Kingdom of Heaven all around us. (Hoffacker)
When Christ opens our eyes, our hearts and minds will be forever changed, made anew to be like his.
When we have the mind of Christ, we can’t help but love God, love others, and serve both.
When we have the mind of Christ, we can’t help but be moved to make real changes and real differences in our lives and in the lives of others.
When we have the mind of Christ, we can’t help but open our hands like he did - healing and transforming people and communities.
When we think, and see, and feel, and love like Christ, we begin to understand why God has invited us to participate in this kingdom today.
These four fishermen, and eight others, will walk away from family, friends and careers to be a part of this kingdom. By simply being with and around Jesus, they would come to discover this great truth: that God is love.
Jesus calls us to follow him; to embrace and live out this love in all that we do. In accepting his invitation, we agree to love what God loves by being the light, the leaven, the salt, the small mustard seed of love.
In Christ, like Richard Rohr writes, “God is changing the world. But to get everyone and everything there, God needs people who are willing to enter this kingdom and transform it into “life and life more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Who among us will drop our nets, stop what we’re doing, to follow him there?
Hoffacker, Charles. The Bible is Full of Beginnings. January 27, 2008 (accessed on January 19, 2023).
Rohr, Richard. The Mind Does Not Like To Change. January 25, 2020 (accessed on January 19, 2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”