Matthew 4:12-23 Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 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 sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 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. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 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.
He had been trained to respond physically when trouble loomed. A former all-state tackle from his high school in Ashtabula, Ohio, his protective instincts were severely challenged on February 27, 2012. He worked on the football coaching staff at Chardon High. During the school day he presided over study halls and lunch hours in the cafeteria until the final bell sent students to workouts and football practice. But he didn’t view his work as simply a job. He was an encourager. He noticed all the students and greeted them by name. He knew about their home life and their academic challenges. He gave kids the opportunity to open up to him and they did. His home life reflected his deep love for children. He and his wife, Ashley, adopted four sons, some of whom have significant health challenges which they tend to willingly. A burly man at 6’1” tall and 350 pounds, he was known to be a giant teddy bear.
On a snowy February morning, as the kids were settling into their places at the beginning of the first period, a student named T.J. opened fire in the cafeteria. Frank thought, at first, it was fire crackers but saw a couple of students slumped and bleeding. He saw a young man standing there with a gun, ready to shoot again. Frank was facing the dreaded question of every teacher: What would I do if someone opened fire in my classroom? This football tackle responded as he had been trained: he charged at aggressor. The boy headed for the door and the coach chased him down the hall, scattering terrified students and faculty. Running just ahead of the coach, the gunman saw another student near the back door of the school. Frank knew this young man. He had already been hit a couple of times by bullets. Frank yelled for T.J. to stop but he fired again and the young man went down. He would survive but be relegated to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. T.J. ran out of the building into the sound of sirens and screams.
Frank was raised in the Ashtabula Pentecostal Church. He spent 1 ½ hours each Wednesday night and 2 hours every Sunday being trained in spiritual discipline. His daily life included prayer. His relationship with God fueled his protective care for the kids entrusted to him. Wondering whether to follow the gunman or return to the students who had been shot, Frank felt God pushing him back into the building. He found three boys left in the cafeteria, each gravely injured from gunshot wounds. Frank held them, prayed with them and stayed with them until paramedics could arrive. Tragically these three young men did not survive.
Frank became a hero after the attack. His courageous pursuit spared countless lives. T.J. was apprehended 45 minutes later, walking alone on a road and shivering in the cold. When asked why he ran away he stated, “Because Coach Hall was chasing me.” T.J. was dealing with depression and migraines. He sometimes heard voices urging him to do harmful things, a form of mental illness that had not been detected. As he was locked away and town members retreated to their homes, Frank’s heroism became the talk of the town. Frank was invited to talk with Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper and other major news networks who wanted to hear of his bravery.
But Frank turned them all down. His mind became his enemy and he began an endless loop of questions that boiled down to why he hadn’t been able to do more? Why hadn’t he better protected the three boys who died and the one who was now paralyzed? He apologized to wife, recognizing that he put her in the position of almost becoming a widow to four boys who had already lost their fathers once. Even when 700 parents and students lined up to hug him the morning that the school reopened, he felt unworthy. A Fans of Frank Hall FB page was opened. But Frank was his own greatest enemy. He began a downward spiral into depression that would take months to address. Despite his personal struggle, he hugged the students who came to him, a sort of father figure in the very unsettled school body.
It wasn’t until Frank Hall felt called to change schools that his healing really began. He learned that the football coach at his hometown had given up on the team. He was quitting and the team would be disbanded. These were kids who were being abandoned, their gifts spurned. Frank understood what it was to be broken and decided that those students needed him more than those at Chardon. The kids in Ashtabula-which was often called “Trashtabula by outsiders—had little support from the staff. So he walked into the office and told the principal of his sense of calling to come home. Of course, Frank’s reputation preceded him and his love for his hometown was well-known. Word spread quickly and one eighth-grade boy prayed to God every night that Frank would “come home”. He showed videos to his classmates of the impact Frank had had at Chardon. In spite of a pay cut and taking over a disheartened team, Frank invested his love into players who responded eagerly to his guidance. Record numbers showed up for the football team and the booster club. In addition to being the new coach, Frank served as a counselor for kids with academic and personal problems. He walked the halls giving fist pumps, pats on the back and words of encouragement. He praised the football players for sitting next to kids who were often left to eat alone.
Years earlier he had prayed to be able to use his gifts in a place where God, family, and football were foundational. In following his sense of calling to serve in Ashtabula, as he protected, encouraged and loved this new set of kids, Frank finally began to find peace.
A question that rises from the gospel story today is “What does it takes to be a disciple?” Looking at two pairs of brothers, we understand: a willingness to follow Jesus immediately. Two brothers leave their dad in the family boat, crushing his dreams of his boys one day taking over the family business. The invitation to hit the road is one of radical obedience. The disciples leave behind family, jobs and a sense of belonging, no questions asked. And Jesus promises to teach them to fish for believers.
When has your faith led you into a situation that you never would have chosen on your own? When have you been blessed by saying yes to Jesus, even though the cost was great? What spiritual seeds have you planted and are watching for them to sprout? To what adventures are you being called while clinging to the familiar? Too often we go easy on ourselves when asking what Jesus is calling us to do. Are we exercising our faith so that we have an instinctual response of obedience? Are we looking out for the well-being of others or are we sitting on the sidelines letting others take the lead?
Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah and uses the ancient names for the area of Galilee where He lived out His ministry: Zebulun and Naphtali. Galilee was looked down upon as a place that gave rise to rebels and rednecks. It was denigrated a bit like “Trashtabula.” In Jesus’ day, it was viewed as preposterous that anything good would come out of Nazareth! Yet this is where Jesus invested His ministry!
In Isaiah the wording is, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” But Jesus rephrases it as “the people who sit in darkness…” This verb speaks of a sort of sluggish solitude. Some people go through life in almost catatonic isolation, waiting for others to fix their problems. The people of Jesus’ day had plenty of reasons to be discouraged. Violence at the hands of the Roman Empire was a daily threat. Frequent crucifixions reminded the people that they were only as safe as their unquestioning obedience to the government.
But Jesus is ready to show them a new way. God had not forgotten them and sharing the love of God would bring them great pleasure. They could join hands to build up their community. That solidarity would equip them to deal with whatever came their way. The cost is high: they had to drop everything to follow Him. It would be an ongoing course of study to learn the way of life He modeled. Jesus teaches them the power of words. They are not just informative. They are performative. They effect change! Just once, at the last supper with His disciples, He said, “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” However we still speak those words today and they change us and our world!
The nature of Jesus’ call is not to personal salvation but to a common ministry. Our willing sacrifice for the well-being of our community makes the Realm of God evident. Like Coach Frank Hall, our reflexes must be continually tested so that, in a crunch moment, we are ready to drop everything and act in the power of Jesus. We come here weekly to be reminded that we carry Him into every part of our week. When we hit the road with Christ, He leads us to new destinations and teaches us to fish for people—to inspire followers to leave the sidelines and jump into the action. It requires our repentance. It requires our obedience. It requires our all.
To what adventure is Christ calling you? Are you ready to step up to whatever task is sent your way? He’s still calling, inviting us to bringing blessing into wastelands. Shall we head out and see what lies ahead?