March 13, 2011

Call of Christ

What do you think of when you receive an invitation? Most of us have questions:

Should I go, what to wear, who will be there, does it fit my schedule? Jesus invites (calls) us each into ministry with him. He called men and women from the Lake District of Galilee as his first disciples.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a large lake (5 miles east to west & 15 miles north to south) in the northern part of Israel. Surrounded by fishing villages and fish processing towns, the area was the center of export for both fresh and cured fish as far away as Rome where the fish were highly prized by Roman society. Fish included sardine, carp, perch, catfish and even eels. Even though Jews are forbidden by Levitical law from eating catfish and eels, they exported them to the Gentiles. Wealthier fishermen used boats up to 26 feet long and 7 feet wide, crewed by four rowers and carrying up to fifteen men. Others used smaller craft or even hooks. Most of the fish were caught in seine nets, thrown out over the water and tightened to enclose the fish, which was then dragged to shore or pulled into the boat.

This is where Jesus called his first disciples, who were fishermen. Something about this young preacher called to their hearts and they didn’t hesitate to accept the call. (Mark 1:16-20) The Lake District was familiar territory to men like Peter and Andrew, James and John who left the family business to follow Jesus. Another of the men called to be a disciple was a despised tax collectors from Capernum.

Capernum is a lake village about 15 miles from Cana. Homes and even the synagogue were constructed of the black volcanic basalt rock found nearby. The prosperity of this town was due to its location on the trade route running between the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas in Galilee, and his capital, Tiberius, and the tetrarchy of his brother Philip on the northeast side of the Sea.

Antipas, like other rulers throughout the empire, minted his own coinage. Merchants used the Roman currency even though it had the image of the emperor (which was against Jewish law). Tax collectors also used coinage or in-kind items as payment of the onerous taxes. Each catch of fish was taxed as was every other item that passed through Capernum. Tax collectors were considered a necessary if unsavory part of the economy. Most tax collectors were known to be thieves, charging more than is due and pocketing the extra. Even though tax collectors were despised, it was a lucrative job and not to be abandoned lightly.

Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector. He left his job when Jesus called him to the life of discipleship. (Mark 2:13-17) Jesus’ association with Matthew appalled the scribes and Pharisees, but Jesus says he came to ‘call sinners, not righteous’.

During the Thursday evening class, we discussed how easy it is to see ourselves as ‘righteous’ and look down on those who don’t go to church or live an alternative life-style. Jesus’ comment gave us a lot to discuss about how we judge one another.

Magdala is found at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. This was more of a farming center with fertile soil west of the lake providing farm land where date palms, olive, walnut and sycamore trees as well as rich grain fields and vineyards were cultivated.

Women, including Mary of Magdala were drawn to follow Jesus like the men. There is no record of Jesus actually calling a woman as his disciple, but there are several references to the women who followed him. One of the more famous women was Mary of Magdala who history has named prostitute, although the Bible only says she was demon possessed. (Luke 8:1-3) This painting called Repentant Mary Magdalene by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) 1565 shows the traditional interpretation of Mary. It is possible, even probable, that she was an independent woman of wealth rather than a prostitute. This would have made her suspect to her neighbors because women were not supposed to have any interaction with men not in their family. As a trader, she would have needed to meet with men, even Gentile men.

On Ash Wednesday many people attended services and heard the stark reminder that we are all sinners, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande noted that repentence is necessary and different from guilt. Guilt holds us captive, while repentence (literally turning again) means leaving behind sin and starting over. Therefore, Lent is a hopeful season not a time for bemoaning how awful we are. God’s love gives us a chance to start afresh again and again. Fishermen, tax collectors, women with a reputation, and others left homes and employment when Jesus said “Follow me.” God’s love calls us to follow, too.  Think about these questions from the class.

Levi left his position with the Roman government to follow Jesus. Would you be able to give up a prestigious position if Jesus called you?
Many who followed Jesus had been healed. What healing have you felt in your life as you follow Jesus?
What is your response to God’s call on your life?

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