A Homily preached by Daniel Love Glazer
Bella Terra Nursing Center
January 22, 2017
[Scripture: Matthew 4:12-23]
Do you all remember the days before there was voice mail or answering machines? When I first moved to Chicago, 35 years ago, I worked for a company where a receptionist would write down telephone messages on a slip of paper.One day I picked up a message that I had been called by someone from the National Association of Reality. This surprised me, for I knew of no such organization, but thinking about it, I thought that The National Association of Reality was an organization I would like to join! How about you? When I returned the call, I learned that the caller was actually from the National Association of Realtors. Too bad! Still, the message got me to thinking, what is reality, anyhow?
We can think of various kinds of realities, at different levels. To us, living in the Chicago area in the wintertime, reality is bitter cold temperatures and snow. To a new-born child, reality is his mother’s loving care. In Chicago, one reality is that 700 people were murdered last year. Chicagoans also relished the reality that the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years.
How would Jesus characterize reality? After all, Jesus mission was to reveal the truth. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Moreover, he said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus would not deny the realities of bitter cold, of maternal nurturing, of an epidemic of murders, or the joy of a baseball team’s triumph, and he would have much to say about the evil realities we encounter in life, but he came to earth to testify to a more far-reaching truth, the truth of the reality of the kingdom of heaven.
In today’s scripture passage, we are told about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when he started gathering disciples and first talked about the coming kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ mission was preceded by that of his cousin John, who became known as John the Baptist. John’s message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
After Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he “began to announce, ‘Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!’” And he started calling disciples. The first two named in the gospel of Matthew are fisherman brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. “He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Then he calls two sons of Zebedee the boat builder, James and John.
I wonder whether Simon Peter, Andrew, and James and John Zebedee might have known Jesus before being called, as reported by Matthew. We know that Jesus’ father Joseph was a carpenter; It is likely that Jesus was also a carpenter; he may well have worked in Zebedee’s boat-building shop. If so, the Gospels don’t tell us. They simply relate Jesus’ calling these disciples, who immediately accept Jesus’ command, “Follow me.”
We Christians should ask ourselves, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” The first disciples left their work and families, and accompanied Jesus on his various preaching tours in Palestine. And they were witnesses to his various sermons, to miracles of healing, and ultimately to his death and resurrection.
You and I do not have the blessing of being with Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh. But, as Christians, we are also called to follow Jesus. To do this, we must understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven. In today’s scripture passage, we are told that “Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom.”
What is the good news of the kingdom of heaven that was a central part of Jesus’ teaching? The Hebrew prophets presented the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God as both a present reality and a future hope—when the kingdom would be realized in fullness upon the appearance of the Messiah. This is the kingdom concept John the Baptist taught. And Jesus taught both these, as well. Most basically, he taught that the kingdom of heaven must begin with the dual concept of the fatherhood of God and the resulting fact of the brotherhood of man. Jesus said that “God is your heavenly Father.” Indeed, Jesus referred to God as “your Father” or “your heavenly Father 15 times in Matthew chapters 5 and 6 alone, as well as elsewhere. In chapter 20 of the gospel of John, the risen Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Moreover, he affirms, “You are all brothers.”Jesus also told us, “The Father himself loves you.”  and “Fear not, little flock: for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Since Jesus portrayed God as a Father, one may ask why Jesus used the image of “kingdom of God” rather than “family of God.” At the time of Jesus’ life in the flesh, kingdoms, in which a king ruled, were the dominant form of political organization. Moreover, “Kingdom of God” was the phrase used by John the Baptist, the last in the line of Hebrew prophets and who aroused Israel to fervent expectation of Jesus’ coming. By using the phrase “kingdom of God,” Jesus tapped into the religious fervor that John had developed among the people. But the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed is not a life of servitude to a monarch. It is a life of familial love. His teaching was that one enters this kingdom simply by acceptance of the relationship of being a son or daughter to God: “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Jesus also taught the profound truth that “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Jesus thereby exalted the individual. And realize that individuals who are so exalted will go on to engage in loving service to all God’s children.
By accepting Jesus’ teaching of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, we are endowed with a new life of spiritual liberty. We are emboldened with new courage and increased spiritual power. The gospel of the kingdom sets us free and inspires us to dare to hope for eternal life; it includes true consolation for all of us, even for the poor. Jesus taught that, by faith, the believer enters the kingdom now. He taught that two things are essential to entrance into the kingdom:
- 1.Sincere faith. To come as a little child, to receive as a gift that one is a son or daughter of God.
- 2.Hunger for truth. The thirst for righteousness, the acquirement of the motive to be like God and to find God.
Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and also the Son of Man, that is, he was both divine and human. We sometimes forget that the human Jesus needed to have faith, just as you and I do. He enjoyed a sublime and wholehearted faith in God which totally dominated his thinking, his praying, and his life of dedicated service.
Jesus does not require his disciples to believe in him, but rather to believe with him, believe in the reality of the love of God and in full confidence accept the assurance that we are all his beloved children. The Master desires that all his followers should fully share his transcendent faith. To “follow Jesus” means to personally share his religious faith and to enter into the spirit of the Master’s life of unselfish service for mankind. Jesus most touchingly challenged his followers, not only to believe what he believed, but also to believe as he believed. This is the full significance of his one supreme requirement, “Follow me.” If we follow him, we will know the reality of the kingdom, both in this life and the life to come.