You’ve got to love some of Paul’s words. In the midst of arguing that the Corinthians should remember that they are Christ’s and not part of some faction, he points them to the fact that the gospel—the good news of God’s salvation!—is foolishness to the world. When he first brought the gospel to this community, Paul was insistent that he didn’t use the flowery, incisive, over-the-top rhetoric of the day to convince them, but instead let the gospel speak for itself. And to most people, this message that Paul was giving sounded like foolishness. The community around the Corinthian church saw what they were doing and saw it through the eyes of people who don’t understand. What he said then is just as true now.
The world’s wisdom stands opposed to the gospel in so many ways. It’s foolishness to love others not as they love you, but as you love yourself. Common sense tells us that’s a setup to be taken advantage of. It’s foolishness to strive for peace in a world bent towards war. Failing to react to violence with better violence just invites being walked all over. It’s foolishness to look after the poor and oppressed when they can’t pay you back. If there’s nothing they can do for you, then it’s just wasting your resources on a bad investment. It’s foolishness to say that death—so obviously so permanent—doesn’t have the last say.
But this is life—real life! The life of those who are being saved is in hearing and living the good news of God. Putting others before ourselves is life because that is the shape of salvation. Hope in the face of hopelessness is life because of what Christ has done for us and to us. Seeing death as a defeated enemy and not a black void at the end gives life and hope. And the reason we can hang on to that hope so tenaciously, so confidently, is because we know how this story ends. As the Reverend Grace Imathiu said, “the entire scripture is a spoiler alert.” So we cling to this foolishness as the water clings to the baptized.
And yet the people of Galilee didn’t know at the time how the story ends. When Isaiah first prophesied that a light would shine in the darkness of Galilee, those lands were under foreign occupation. Like the people of the West Bank or eastern Ukraine, the people of Galilee were not rulers of their own land. The darkness was domination—first by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, the Persians, the Seleucid Greeks, and now the Romans. To proclaim light and hope was a message of foolishness.
It was in this darkness of foreign occupation that Jesus appeared, proclaiming—as it says in Matthew—that “the kingdom of Heaven has drawn near.” Calling people to repent, to turn from their ways of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, their ways of despair or fear, to a way of foolishness and hope. In the midst of his proclamation he finds his way to Capernaum, where he encounters the fishermen brothers Simon and Andrew. Fishing was good, honest work in Galilee. Something someone could have a decent, comfortable life doing. And yet when Jesus called them, they dropped their nets and followed.
And in the same way Jesus found James and John. They were in the middle of their work mending nets with their father when Jesus called them. And without any questions asked, without hesitation, they abandoned the secure labor of working for their father to follow Jesus. Like fools, the world might say.
The same might be said of Jesus, actually. Calling fishermen? These men, whose education in religion might have covered basic Torah education at the synagogue, were supposed to aid him in proclaiming the kingdom of heaven? He couldn’t have gotten more qualified people to help him in this mission? Foolishness.
The only reason we know that the disciples Jesus called and the mission they undertook wasn’t all utter foolishness is because we know how this story ends. But the disciples didn’t. They dropped their nets and shuttles and followed Jesus in this fool’s errand to usher in the kingdom. They heard the call and answered it. They put their whole hope in Jesus and in the kingdom he announced. And the thing is, they never got out of that calling.
These apostles entered into their calling to the kingdom without really understanding what they were getting into. But they trusted that Jesus and the message he was proclaiming were something unique, powerful—real. Even though they weren’t prepared, even though they weren’t the most qualified, even though they had no idea where it would lead, following Jesus is life to those who are being saved. Though they didn’t know it when they left their nets to follow Jesus, the disciples would find the gospel is life. We who are baptized are being saved.
So we are called to be fools for the kingdom, proclaiming in word and deed what God has done, is doing, and will do for all of creation. We’re called to extend love and invitation to unloving or unloveable people. We’re called to make the kingdom known by speaking out for those who can’t speak out for us in return. We’re called to share the abundance of creation with the people on the margins. We’re called to do this because we know how this story ends.
And so in that way, we know what looks like foolishness to the world is life and salvation to those who are being saved. We believe that Christ is at work in what we do, so when we invite the new neighbor to have dinner, or when we march for the rights of others, or when we donate more than our share to the food shelf, or any other number of things that are signs of the kingdom, we trust that we are not alone in what we do. That through our foolish kingdom work, Christ is making salvation known to the world.
Because that phrase, “the kingdom of God has come near” doesn’t mean that the kingdom is just closer today than it was yesterday. It means the kingdom of God is right next to you, pulling on your sleeve, getting your attention. The kingdom of God has come near, and through the waters of baptism we are called to make it known to the whole world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.