"Only Losers Need A Savior" – Matthew 4:12-23
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.
In Matthew’s face-paced version of events, immediately following Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, Jesus’ next adventure took place in the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was tempted by the devil. Three times, Jesus rejected the offer of power and privilege which the devil presented. Three times, Jesus declared his faith in God alone. Matthew states that the devil left him and angels attached themselves to Jesus.
Following his dramatic baptism and victory over the devil, Jesus sets about to begin his public ministry. And he picks a strange place to start. He starts his ministry in the land of “Zebulun and Naphtali.” It’s a strange place to start because the land of Zebulun and Naphtali is conquered land. It’s people are oppressed. Colloquially, we could call it “Loser-ville.” I think it is safe to say everyone in Jesus’ day knew it as “Loser-ville.”
You see, Loser-ville was once a land of great promise. More accurately, it was once a land of God’s promise. It was land that God had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had shown to Moses. It was Canaanite land that God pledged to the Hebrew tribes of Jospeh’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali.
However, 700 years before Jesus first steps foot on the land, the land fell under foreign occupation by the Assyrians. The current residents of the area of Zebulun and Naphtali were occupied and oppressed. The people resided in a land that was promised them; however, it was a land they could not possess. After 700 years of living under occupation, most residents had long since given up on many of God’s promises.
And it is here, in Loser-ville, where Jesus chooses to make his inaugural address, stating, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The Biblical notion of repentance means “to turn around 180 degrees.” When Jesus speaks to the residents of Loser-ville who have lived through hundreds of generations of oppression, he is calling on them to make a complete change of behavior, attitude, and faith – to turn in the completely opposite direction, to turn their downcast gaze towards the God whose promises are still valid and soon to be realized.
The call for repentance was a call to expectation. Hey losers, expect to be healed. Expect to be free. Expect redemption. Hey losers, expect equality. Expect justice. Expect good news. Expect God’s love. Expect salvation.
Jesus beginning his ministry in Loser-ville does more than symbolize the truth of God’s promises; his ministry actually makes God’s promises come true.
All this makes me wonder where our “Loser-villes” are today. Where are the places in our world where people have lived under oppression for so long that they no longer know where to look to receive God’s promises? Where are the places where people no longer even expect justice, equality, love, and good news? Where are the places where people have been told over generations that they don’t deserve any of that?
Certainly we are called to go and announce God’s promises to places of such as Fondwa, Haiti, where opportunities for hope, opportunity, and safety are limited. Likewise, I recall the racially-divided slums of South Africa as places of political oppression in desperate need of good news.
But we don’t have to hop on an airplane to find places where people have lived under oppression for so long that they no longer know where to look to receive God’s promises. What about the part of Indianapolis that the Indianapolis Police refer to as “The Swamp” (that name's actually worse than “Loserville”). I see it in our local school where it is clear some kids have no one to read to them at home – kindergarten students who are already set up for a life of educational failure and limited opportunities. I see it in the people who turn to opioids abuse or meth to numb their boredom or emotional distress. I see it in the people who treat other ethnic, socioeconomic, or racial groups with outright hatred or casual indifference. And I see it in the lives of those who have physical or mental disabilities–people who need champions for their rights and their dignity.
There is no place on Earth where God’s promise is invalid. There is no inch of soil anywhere on this planet where God’s promises cannot take root and grow into something beautiful and transformative. The seeds have already been planted. Our attitude and actions make a huge difference in whether these seeds will grow.
Jesus’ ministry in inaugurated in Loser-ville and is full of acts of healing “that repair imperial damage and enact God’s life-giving empire in restoring people’s lives. They anticipate the completion of God’s working that creates a world, envisioned by Isaiah, in which all people [regardless of race or nationality] enjoy abundant good food and physical wholeness, where ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’”
There is hope for the losers in the world. And I thank God for that fact that I am a loser. If I had everything together. If I was confident; if I was self-sufficient; if I had no need of forgiveness; if I was blind to the painful injustices of our world…then I would have no need for a Savior.
But I am a loser. And it is in this very identity of imperfection where Jesus comes to me, calls me to repentance, offers a healing touch, and sends me out to do the same for others.
I don’t tell you this enough, but you are a loser, too. And that is wonderful news because a loser is exactly the type of person Jesus is drawn to.
So embrace your fear, your imperfection, your feelings of inadequacy, your need of healing. Embrace these things and repent – turn around and gaze into the healing presence of a God who is in control, whose promises are eternal, and who will always have a word of hope for us losers.