Q&A: Who were the first disciples? (Peter, etc. but what do they all have in common? … Yes, they were fishers, yes, they were men, yes, they followed without hesitation, but perhaps above all they were Galileans. People of the Galilee.)
Imagine, with me, Jesus emerging from the desert where he has been since his baptism by John in the Jordan. He stands there, dirty, dusty, bitten by sun and wind. He’s a gaunt shadow of his former self but lit by an unmistakable inner light. Like his Jewish ancestors he has faced the desert, he has entertained its temptations, and found there his own promised land. A land he walks in now. A land to lead all his suffering people into as well. He knows what to do.
So there he stands, drinking his first draught from the well and hearing his first news. And it hits like a blow. John who drew him south, John who baptized him, John has been betrayed and thrown into prison. Can you see the thirst dry up in him? Can you see him buckle under the news? The light in him seems to cloud over and his hopes shiver. What hope does he have if John with all his fire and all his followers can be so easily ended? Who is he, one man, alone and thirsty, to change the world? He doesn’t know what to do.
So what does Jesus do? He withdraws. Away from the South with its deserts and kings. Away from its prisons and priests. Where does he go? He goes home. He goes to the Galilee. …
He goes home but not quite home. He leaves behind Nazareth of his youth and strikes out north through pasture and hillside, thinking. He skirts Sepphoris, the city just four miles down the road, praying. He keeps well away from Tiberius, freshly built and bustling with power, wondering. And he comes to rest in Capernaum. Maybe it’s seeing the lake that holds him. Maybe it’s an inner call. But here he settles. He sets up house in Capernaum: one Galilean among many. His first preaching will be here in the Galilee; His first hearers Galilean; His first followers.
Who are they these Galileans? Imagine, with me, that you are a Galilean: who are you? Well, open your mouth and you’d be known by your accent. You can always tell a Galilean when you hear one. Your voice betrays you. And what does it gives you away? It depends.
A Roman soldier would hear trouble. Galilee is notorious. A hot bed of political trouble and violence. Bandits, our soldier would call them, terrorists. They might prefer to call themselves freedom fighters. But whatever the name, all sorts of religious fanatics stumble out of Galilee with voices in their head crying rebellion and they have to be put down swiftly and efficiently … so our centurion says. No, in the Galilee you keep an eye on your back and a hand on your sword.
Now to a devout Jew, from down south, on the other hand, your Galilean accent would betray not a faith too strong but a faith too weak. There’s too much mixing with gentiles up there; Too many foreigners with their godforsaken ideas passing through. Important beliefs watered down. Practices abandoned. There are idols, for God’s sake. Damned near gentiles the lot of them. Can’t trust them.
No the accent betrays you. You, poor Galilean, are too fanatical for the Romans and too impure for your own people. Neither fish nor fowl. Too many languages struggling in one head. Aramaic for day to day, Hebrew for worship, enough Greek for trade, maybe a smattering of Latin. No wonder you have an accent. You’re neither one thing nor the other. But somehow you come to terms with being in between. Maybe you just get on with your life fishing, or planting, or tending your animals. Or maybe you struggle with it and talk too loudly in bars or turn an occasional hand theft in a good cause. Or maybe you just see another buck to be made even off the back of others, collecting taxes or managing someone else’s property.
So where does Jesus go when he gets his bad news? He comes to you. He sets up house next door. And when he speaks to you it’s in your own voice. And he says the damnedest things that catch you all off guard until he laughs and you with him. And you some of the people he hangs out with make you wonder about him.
Lately though he’s gone a lot. You hear he’s been wandering around, up and down the lake. Preaching, they say, knitting the stuff of lake and land, of sowing and growing and harvest, making it into something surprising, beautiful. Making you think, they say. Making you wonder whether God might not be closer than you’ve ever thought. Making you hope. Making you hope that maybe God too has an accent and juggles too many languages. Maybe God is trouble to some and lax to others. Making you hope that maybe God might like it here in the Galilee. Maybe a light might shine here. Next door. And maybe, if this God were to walk by while you were fishing, well maybe you too might leave your nets and go after bigger fish.
Add comment January 24th, 1999