A reflection by the Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals.
Scripture: Matthew 4:12-23 (NRSV)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
'Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
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.'
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'
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 lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 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. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
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.
A couple of years ago, I was leading a confirmation class on discipleship. In order to introduce the students to this topic, we read this week's passage from the Gospel of Mark. I was surprised by the students' somewhat negative response. They bristled against the idea that anyone would be expected to follow a complete stranger. They were incredulous that they might be called upon to emulate the disciples' act of radical faith and trust. Sure, Jesus was a good guy, they said, but no way would they follow anyone without even knowing the first thing about them.
There is a certain skepticism that comes naturally to us in the 21st century. We are wary of strangers. We harbor a general mistrust of politicians and world leaders. We are hesitant to put our full faith and trust into any major institutions. We are always on the lookout for scams or people attempting to take advantage of us. Trust is not freely given in our society, it has to be earned. For better or for worse.
Still, I can't help but feel that our world would be better off if we trusted Jesus a little bit more. If we trusted his teachings on forgiveness, for instance, instead of holding grudges and maintaining bitter divisions. Or if we trusted his call for us to be peacemakers rather than putting all our trust in military might. Or if we trusted his guidance on how to engage with those on the margins— not with suspicion and mistrust, but with kindness and compassion.
At some point, we need to learn how to trust again. We are called to leave behind our skepticism, our world-wariness, and our cynicism. We are called to trust that if we follow Jesus, if we trust in his guidance and listen to his teachings, we will grow into a deeper and more fulfilling life of faith, and that we too can become part of one of the greatest stories ever told.
Gracious God, help us to trust in you and in your promises, so that we might live more deeply into our call to further your Gospel of love and light in a hurting world.
Rev. Sara Ofner-Seals is a member of Park Congregational Church in Norwich, CT.
January 18, 2017