Grace and peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. There are no god-forsaken people.
He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea.”Matthew 4:12-23
It is an innocuous sort of line. Not one I had ever noticed or paid much attention to, until my trip to Israel and Jordan three years ago.
What difference did it make where Jesus made his home? Who cares where one lives? It wasn’t written in red letters so why pay attention to it?
A home in gentile country
Except this. Capernaum is in Gentile country. Nowhere near Jewish territory. I want you to let that sink in. The one we think of as the fulfillment of Jewish law, and the Jewish sacrificial system, set up his home in Gentile country.
The one we so often believe can only be understood within a Jewish and subsequently Christian framework sets up his home base outside of Jewish territory, outside of Jewish rule, outside of Jewish structure.
If Jesus saw himself as only a Jewish messiah of a tribal deity, he certainly went about it in a strange way.
Understanding yourself as a Jewish messiah and then setting up your home base in Gentile country would be like setting your goal to be the best theater actor in the world, and then only doing community theater in Ajo, Arizona.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Critique of tribalism
There is a critique going on here. A critique of tribalism. It is a critique that any one group, any one system, can contain the whole of the Mystery.
Jesus may be Jewish, but his Abba – his daddy – is not. Just because I grew up exclusively Christian does not mean my heavenly father is. Just because I have always explained the divine Mystery in exclusively Christian terms doesn’t mean that is the only way to speak of God. And no belief system that I or you can create, can ever contain the whole of the Mystery.
Or as John Shelby Spong put it:
This Bible verse is a healthy reminder that none of our well-manicured theologies or institutional hierarchies can contain the Divine. And a little humility might go a long way in our description of the Mystery. For God has made God’s home amongst those whom we believe stand outside of God.
Jesus makes his home in the land of the Gentiles. Is there anything more telling than that?
Who is God for? The insider group or the outsider group? Who is the Divine for? Those who wish to define God or those who wish to follow God?
The religion of Jesus
My friend Paul Evenson likes to say, “We have made Christianity too much a religion ABOUT Jesus rather than the religion OF Jesus.”
And what he means by that is that we spend most of our time trying to define Jesus – his divinity, his humanity… what are the proper titles for him… who do we say that he is – as if who we say Jesus is makes him that.
But what we fail to do is spend our time looking and following Jesus’ beliefs about his Abba Father. What were Jesus’ beliefs about the Mystery and who the Divine is… who the Divine is for?
He made his home in Capernaum, land of the Gentiles.
Is there any more of a clearer statement on who Jesus thought the Mystery is for?
And it is his beliefs that eventually got him killed. Because the powers that be can’t exist without a ‘them,’ without a ‘those people’ to demonize and exclude. Leaders convince ‘us’ we need ‘them’ to protect us from ‘those people.’ Tribalism is our only protection.
But Jesus wasn’t content to have a tribal God. A divine Mystery for only a select few.
He sets up his home base in Gentile country and goes from city to city, and town to town. He preaches in synagogues, yes, but he also heals in towns and villages of all kinds of people. Family members of the Roman occupying force. A gentile man filled with demons. Women, children. None of these are a part of the ‘in’ crowd… none of these are the blessed of the blessed.
And yet here is Jesus, setting up his home base, making his home, in them.
A net for all people
Perhaps Jesus is serious when he calls his fishermen disciples to come and net ‘people.’ If they are ‘people,’ they are to be caught up in the net of God’s grace and mercy.
That’s it. That’s the criterion. At the beginning of the day, the net is cast out for all people. At the end of the day, all people are brought in.
It is such a different way of life. This ‘netting of people.’
When you and I talk about what we net, we refer to money, possessions, acquisitions. What’s your net ‘worth’? What’s your net ‘income’? What’s your net ‘value’?
Jesus asks the question, “What’s your net ‘people’?”
Excuse me … say what?
The question doesn’t make any sense! Which only proves how far off base we have become. How out of whack our priorities are.
You see, to ask the question, “Who have you caught up in the grace and mercy of God through your life?” Or, “Who have you cast the net of divine love and forgiveness to?” This is to flip the whole of our faith from a self-centered narcissistic system to an outwardly-focused life. To see God not as an acquisition but as a shared experience, a shared encounter, especially in those we least expect.
What are we afraid of?
What is it we are afraid of? Why do we always seek to contain, to fence in God’s grace? Are we actually afraid we are going to out-grace God? Do we actually think we can out-forgive God?
Do we really think on judgment day, God is going to say to us, “Well, off to Hell with you!!! You forgave more people than I do. You had mercy on more people than I wanted. You were just TOO GRACIOUS. To Hell with you all!!!”
Seriously, it’s laughable.
Let me try to put it as simply as possible.
The one who we say is “Immanuel, God with us,” the one who we say is “The Word made flesh,” the one who we say is “God in our presence” … This one makes his home in a god-forsaken land with god-forsaken people. Which can only mean one thing – there is no god-forsaken land, and there are no god-forsaken people.
Period. End of sentence.
And if we think that God will only make God’s home in you and me and people like us, then we negate the very life of Jesus. And we yank him from his home in Capernaum and turn him into a homeless person, which ironically is where he most finds himself at home – with the homeless.
“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
Because as he said about the judgment day, “I was hungry, a stranger, and you welcomed me.” And in another place, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Apparently, God can even make Godself at home where there is no home.
Like in the heart of a betrayer, and a denier. And a doubter and some cowards. Like in you and me in this meal.
I can’t recall at the moment who said it, but someone once said:
In the god-forsaken areas of our lives, the divine Mystery wishes to make a home. In the dis-membered areas of our lives, the Mystery wishes to be re-membered.
There are no God-forsaken people
Because you see, there is no god-forsaken space. And there are no god-forsaken people. Not you, or me, or even ‘those people.’
All are caught up in the net of God’s grace. All swim in God’s sea of forgiveness.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud