January 23rd: “Gone Fishing”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 4:12-25

B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …

C. Other texts for Year A between January

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

12 After John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan near Jerusalem, Jesus had wandered in the desert for 40 days. Returning to Galilee would bring Jesus closer to Herod, who had imprisoned John.

13 Nazareth, is in southern Galilee and Capernaum in northern Galilee.

14-16 How else was light used as a metaphor for God in the first century?
Matthew cites Isaiah to demonstrate fulfillment of previous prophecies. Hence since the fishermen were Jewish, they would recognize God’s Messiah and instantly leave their occupation to follow Jesus.

17 This is word-for-word identical to what John preached.

18-20 If a call involves both a push to leave and a pull to join something new, what might have pushed Peter and Andrew to consider leaving the trade they knew? If they knew what they were getting into, would they have gone?

21-22 Matthew hints at neither the push nor the pull that drew James and John to follow him. How might preparing their nets be symbolic of preparing to become fishers of men?

23 This section could have been swapped with 18-22, without loss of flow. Does this interlude relate to Jesus preparing his new disciples for becoming fishers of men?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Verse 12 is an abrupt change from the passage describing Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
  • Should consider extending this to the end of the chapter. (v, 25).

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Mark 1:14-15 expands Jesus’ preaching to: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”
  • Luke 4:14-15 is followed by examples of Jesus preaching in Nazareth and Galilee prior to calling the disciples.
  • Isaiah 9:1-2 – Matthew uses a more poetic version of Isaiah 9:1. Isaiah describes the people as “walking” in darkness and says nothing of a “shadow of death”.
  • Mark 1:16-20 adds that James and John “left their father in the boat with the hired men“.
  • Luke 5:1-11 expands the call of Peter, explaining that Jesus had preached to a crowd from Peter’s boat and that Jesus had told Peter where to cast his net to catch a net bursting/boat sinking load of fish. Peter had protested about his sinful condition making him in eligible, but he followed Jesus. James and John are listed as Peter’s partners, presumably involved with the amazing catch of fish. Andrew is not mentioned.
  • John 1:35-42 describes Andrew as a disciple of John, present at Jesus’ baptism. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus on the day after Jesus is baptized by John, before Jesus travels to Galilee. No mention of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. No mention of Andrew and Peter’s occupation. No mention of the call of James and John.
  • Matthew’s lack of details infers a recognition of Jesus as the Messiah based on a spiritual connection, deeper than words.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Peter and Andrew were casting a net, but James and John were preparing their net.
  • Jesus’ fame calls these four before his fame spreads throughout the region.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

  • Why would Peter, Andrew, James and John leave what they knew to follow Jesus? Their personal pull and push are hidden.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

  • Hearing Jesus finding his disciples doing their work beside the sea, tells us they were not scholars or religious leaders, but common folk.
  • The quoted passage from Isaiah’s prophecy says these people sat in darkness, in the shadow of death. What was dark and deadly in Galilee?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Growth of Jesus’ following from a solitary figure tempted in the desert.
  • Music: “The Summons”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • We are not allowed time to be stunned with the speed of their decision to leave their nets and follow Jesus.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • What dark and deadly circumstance pushed them from their nets?
  • Can we be called to follow Jesus without being pushed from a comfortable existence?

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • We know who Jesus is and what he accomplished during his ministry, hence we would readily follow him had we been sitting on the shores of Galilee when he walked past, eliminating the shock of the immediacy of the response of these four fishermen.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert Gundry (Matthew, Eerdmans, 1982, p. 59-65) contrasts Matthews word choice for Jesus traveling to Galilee as connoting “avoidance of persecution by withdrawal from the area where John had suffered arrest.” Gundry cites several links between Matthew’s citation from Isaiah and the setting for Jesus ministry in Capernaum to demonstrate fulfillment of prophecy.

M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995, p. 166 – 171) ends the pericope with verse 22, placing verses 23 – 25 as an introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. He notes that Matthew used the same word to describe John’s arrest as Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. “The word [repent] does not picture sorrow or remorse, but a change in direction of one’s life. ‘Get yourself a new orientation for the way you live, then act on it.’ catches both the Greek and Hebrew connotations.” Boring contrasts applicants seeking a Rabbi to study under with Jesus seeking disciples to follow him. Boring notes Jesus’ use of a fishing metaphor is not related to the location and the disciples occupation, but to pagan and Jewish usage to call people to a new life and participate in a diety’s saving work. Boring notes that people who owned or leased boats and employed laborers, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, would have been middle class and moderately well educated, including literacy in Greek.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), what does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus’ call to these four fishermen is open ended, they must live into the answer of where and how to follow Jesus. Similarly the call to repentance is also open ended, turning to God must be faithfully lived into, trusting God to lead us the right way.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Follow me! Jesus began his ministry preaching repentance (i.e. follow God). Jesus called disciples to follow him. The crowds responded to being healed by following him.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Turning towards God requires our trusting God to lead us.

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