Summary: Jesus’ great priority was to proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom is at hand. When we pray the words that Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” that is when we align our priority in life with his great priority.
[Sermon preached on 21 January 2018, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Do you ever feel busy? Do you ever feel that you have more to do than you manage to get done? Do you ever feel that your day, your week, your month, or your year is too short? — I certainly do.
Or do you ever have the feeling that other people are setting your agenda? Constantly asking you for favors, for your time, for your help? Do you have difficulties to say “no” when people ask for your time and energy—even when you know you should? — I certainly do.
I have noticed that when I ask people “How are you?”, more and more often they will tell me just how busy they are.
It is true: many of us have far more work to do than we could ever achieve in the course of the day. Everybody around us, at home, at school, and at the workplace, have expectations from us and try to make claims on our time. Messages keep on coming in through email, text message and social media, and of course we are expected to answer without delay.
So what can we do? Either we disappoint people, or we run the risk of letting others live our lives. We do have our own goals and priorities in life. And we should let them guide our choices and our management of time and resources. But how?
For many of us the reality seems to be that we have urgent matters to attend to immediately, and important goals to achieve over the course of time. Our natural reaction is to turn to the urgent issues first. Unfortunately, they are seldom the most important. So in the end, we may find ourselves never getting any closer to those important goals in life.
Jesus was facing pretty much the same kind of dilemma as we are. Today’s gospel text gives us some insights there.
It was Saturday morning. Jesus had visited the synagogue of Capernaum and had been teaching Scripture and driving out demons there.
What Jesus did there was not unique in itself. Many others had been teaching the Scripture before him, and Jewish exorcists had been driving out demons before Jesus did. But the way Jesus went about doing those things was radically different. He taught like one having authority. And he drove out demons without the fancy rituals and magic formulae that other exorcists used. Jesus simply spoke a word and the evil spirits obeyed him.
Then, after the meeting was over, he joined Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, as they went home for the Sabbath meal. But when they got to the house: O dear, the hostess had got ill and had fever. And there was no food on the table. Again, Jesus just spoke a word, and the woman was healed instantly. No magic, no rituals. The simple words of Jesus were full of authority and power by themselves.
But the amazing things that Jesus had been doing in Capernaum triggered off a snowball effect. As the news spreads of what Jesus was able to do, people brought their sick and their demon-possessed to him for healing. They came to the house in the evening, immediately when the Sabbath was over, and they were allowed to carry their sick.
Of course, people came to Jesus primarily for selfish reasons. They asked: “What is in it for me?” The same we see in modern evangelism. Evangelists often want to offer their audience some short-term benefits that are substantial enough to awaken their interest. They invite people on the stage who have touching testimonies to share about how their lives changed when they “met” Jesus or received him in their hearts. Broken relations were mended; they were relieved from addictions; they felt a constant sense of peace; their life turned to the better in every respect. Or the preachers put a healing ministry up front, in order to entice people to come and hear the message, either in order to be healed themselves, or to see some spectacular healing with their own eyes.
I am certainly not saying that these people are lying or twisting the truth. The problem is that they raise the wrong expectations. By this way of wrapping up the gospel, evangelists give the impression that these instant positive developments are the natural and inevitable result of receiving Jesus. Turning it the other way round: if you want to save your marriage, get rid of your addictions, get a job, get healed, or just feel good, you must receive Jesus and “all these things will be added unto you.”
But by doing so, by focusing on the short-term benefits, which are not even necessarily going to materialize in their lives, they miss the point. Christ came to save us from the power of sin and death, to offer us life everlasting, to reconcile us with God. Definitely, that may imply instant delivery from addictions, restored relationships and peace in our hearts, but not necessarily. After all, Jesus also said that he came to bring conflict between family members, and persecution, and anxiety, and a lot of other things that nobody wants for themselves.