1 Corinthians 1:10-18/ Psalm 27:1, 4-9/ Matthew 4:12-23
United in God’s Kingdom
“The Only Thing That Is Clean and Bright”
Today, we start our lesson with a Korean TV drama. In the Korean action fantasy drama called Alchemy of Souls, there is a character named So-I, who has led a wretched life in poverty, which trained her to be a survivor. She does whatever it takes to survive, including theft and pretending to be the long-lost daughter of a prominent family. For So-I, life has been far from being anything good, enjoyable, or beautiful.
Then one day, she meets a young mage with a good heart named Yul and falls in love with him. Life is still terrible as she gets into a lot of bad situations, but only when she is with him, she doesn’t think only of herself. When Yul is gravely injured, she even tries to revive him by giving him her blood. However, all the bad deeds eventually catch up with her. She tries to run away with Yul’s help, the bad men come to take her, Yul comes to save her and almost get killed, she tries to protect him, and ends up getting killed. Yul holds her hand as she dies, but before her last breath, she confesses that he was the only thing in this world that was clean and bright. This death was her redemption.
We know that there are a lot of people who have led miserable lives, although not everyone resorts to a criminal life like So-I. It is difficult for them to feel that life is anything good, enjoyable, or beautiful. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and so on cause a lot of people to feel trapped with little hope. There have always been people who are marginalized in every society that has existed. Jesus was born in an especially dark time for the Jewish people with seemingly never-ending oppression from foreign and domestic sources.
Beginning of Jesus’s Public Ministry
In today’s gospel story, we see Jesus start his public ministry, after being baptized and tempted in the wilderness. When he finally starts his ministry, the message he preaches summarizes everything he will do until he dies: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This sentence is a title, a thesis sentence that tells us what his ministry is going to be about. From this, we understand that Jesus will spend all his life preaching and living this message.
What does one do when one starts a new movement? One gathers followers to work for the same cause. Therefore, he recruits disciples. Simon and Andrew are fishermen, so Jesus uses a fishing metaphor: “I will make you fish for people.” Now, instead of catching fish, they will catch people to join their movement of the kingdom of heaven. James and John also join them, leaving everything behind. After the eager waiting, that we discussed last Sunday, when these men found what they were looking for, they abandoned their possessions and livelihood to take it.
Now, the important part comes next. According to the Gospel of Matthew, what was the first thing Jesus did, apart from preaching about the kingdom of heaven? He healed the sick. You might thing, “Oh, that’s nice,” but Jesus healing the sick means much more than it seems. In the gospel context, healing the sick is not only about diseases and medical conditions. By curing the illnesses, Jesus is really healing the souls, liberating them from the shackles of oppression. Have you ever noticed that most people that Jesus heals in the four Gospels are the poor and the outcasts? This is the whole point of the message of God’s kingdom; that Jesus proclaims liberation to the oppressed.
Unity in Our Mission for God’s Kingdom
Jesus recruited followers and colleagues like anyone who starts a movement would do. Belonging to a community means uniting in the same goals. Unity is crucial to any community.
In First Corinthians, Paul hears news of division inside the Corinthian Church. It seems like some members lost their focus on Christ and started following different church leaders. Paul reminds them that only Christ is the head of their faith community. His teaching to “be in agreement and that there be no divisions” doesn’t mean members should agree on everything like robots. Rather, it means focusing on the same goal. It means, we should work towards the same goal as Jesus’s.
We, as followers of Jesus and members of his community called the kingdom of heaven (also known as kingdom of God or reign of God), should be united in our mission to follow Jesus in proclaiming God’s kingdom here on earth. Being united in God’s kingdom includes developing a deep and intimate personal relationship with God and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit to work towards a just society in which everyone is respected and valued, and we live by the compassionate and just love of God. As followers of Jesus and beloved children of God with whom we have an intimate relationship, we should go out into the world and love all God’s people like Jesus did, especially the marginalized. As it is our privilege to be loved by God, it is also our duty to go to the suffering and struggling people of God to be their clean light, a beacon of hope, as Yul was for So-I in the TV show.
We are always invited to the kingdom of God, but I want you to hear the invitation once again. Come to God, who loves us unconditionally and values us, giving us dignity. Let us confess, like the psalmist, who sang, “God is our light and saving health. I shall not be afraid. One thing I ask of God is that I may dwell in God’s house all the days of our lives, for in the time of trouble you will give me shelter.” Let us be united in the mission of God’s kingdom and seek out God’s people who need God’s light, beacon of hope, with our message of compassionate love and justice, and our humble friendship and service to them.