Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, 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 sea—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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Fulfillment. This term so casually thrown around by gospel writers and Christian theologians seems to pack a lot of meaning. What does it mean when the gospel author says that Isaiah’s words from eight hundred years ago have been fulfilled? I know when we say fulfilled today, it is in the past tense. It is a completed task. The task is no longer ongoing. It is done and finished. But Isaiah was written to the Hebrew people hundreds of years ago, was it never fulfilled before Jesus? Has it ever been fulfilled since then?
I looked up the Greek word for fulfill used here by the gospel author. The word Plēroō (play-rah-o) can be defined as fulfilled but it can also be translated as “to carry into effect, bring to realization, to realize.” (Blue Letter Bible) Does this change our understanding of how the word fulfilled is so often used in scriptures referring back to the First Testament? What if it said, Jesus moved to Capernaum “so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be realized…” The dreams of the prophets were coming true in this moment when Jesus, the light of the world, moved to Capernaum to offer hope for those who have long been oppressed. The dreams of Isaiah were realized in that moment.
But I would argue that this is not the first time (or last) this dream is being realized. John the Baptist had been sharing this exact same message that Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John had been preaching and baptizing in hopes of realizing the prophet’s dreams. The community that was gathering around John was beginning to realize these dreams as well. But then John is imprisoned because these dreams are not something that the Roman Empire wants making their way into revolution.
So Jesus takes up the mantle of fulfilling these dreams and continues the good work started by John and others, the good work envisioned by Isaiah and others. Jesus is realizing the dream of his ancestors for liberation, for hope, for love to break into the oppressive regime. And how does Jesus go about realizing these dreams? Jesus first turns to community to join him in this work.
We see two instances of Jesus seeing fishermen working on their boats, embedded in the imperial economy of Rome, who may never get to even eat the fish they capture. Jesus challenges the status quo and offers them a loyalty different from the empire’s. Jesus offers them the chance to realize the dreams of the prophets and the dreams of the oppressed. These disciples gather around Jesus, catching sight of the dream, a dream that then continues even after Jesus is killed by the same Roman State that imprisoned and killed John. These disciples do not let the dream die but start the church as a way of realizing Isaiah’s dreams.
And then after collecting a community, Jesus shows us what the realization of this dream can look like. “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.” By some estimates 70-90 percent of people in the Roman empire experienced poverty, people who could not subsist on their own. Widespread disease would come from this lack of access to clean water and healthy food. (Warren Carter – Working Preacher) This level of disease could be fatal in a world without antibiotics and other cures. Into this sick world, Jesus offered healing and care. Not simply to provide that antibiotic but to return them to community and to challenge the oppressive systems that make people sick in the first place. Jesus sparked this dream in hundreds more through this work.
And the good news for us today is that the dream of Isaiah, John, Jesus, and the disciples has not died. It lives on in us today. It is the whisper calling out to set free the prisoners and feed the hungry. It is the call to dismantle systems of harm and build communities of care and support. It is good news because it provides housing and medical care and community. It is the dream of heaven on earth. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Have you ever failed to give to communities of care and instead worked for systems of harm? Turn around from those death dealing systems and change your loyalty to the God who desires the flourishing of all life, not just a few. Heaven is near in our work as a community when we donate land for affordable housing breaking the cycle of poverty. Heaven is near when we come alongside our sick members and provide care and support and even money to make sure everything is taken care of. Heaven is near when we share what we have for the flourishing of all. Heaven is near my friends. I have seen it time and time again in small and large ways in our community. Jesus is calling us to realize and fulfill the dreams of our faith forebears to make it a reality. Let us turn and join in this holy work. Amen.