About nelsonkraybill

J. Nelson Kraybill is a Mennonite pastor in Elkhart, Indiana. He was director of the London Mennonite Centre in England (1991-1996) and president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (1997-2009) in Indiana. With a doctorate in NT from Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Virginia, he is author of several books, including APOCALYPSE AND ALLEGIANCE: WORSHIP, POLITICS AND DEVOTION IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION (Brazos, 2010). He is President of Mennonite World Conference, and leads tours to Bible lands.

Remember I am with you

Tabgha--compressed CR2

Tabgha springs flow just a few hundred meters before spilling into the Sea of Galilee, where fishermen stand on rocks to catch fish attracted by the warm spring water. Fishermen in Jesus’ time washed nets in pools in the foreground.

Two kilometers west of Capernaum. a stream of warm water swirls around my feet and spills into the Sea of Galilee. This is Tabgha (“Seven Springs”), where a lush oasis covers the shoreline. Freshwater springs, fed by snow melt from Mount Hermon, gush from the hillside or well up from rocks. Near this spot Jesus preached, healed, and fed five thousand.

The Gospels say that when Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed. Continuing a little farther, Jesus found brothers James and John in a boat, preparing nets. “Come, follow me!” The two abandoned their boat and their father Zebedee and joined the rambling band following the carpenter’s son.

If there is a probable place where Jesus called these fishermen, it is at these bubbling springs. Fish have eternally gathered by Tabgha’s warmth at this corner of the Sea of Galilee, making these waters ideal for fishing. Even today sportsmen with fishing rods perch on rocks ahead of me to cast their lines. Peter, Andrew, James and John probably washed their nets in natural pools of flowing water that Tabgha creates.

Here where the Lord called disciples, I remember my own experience of Jesus’ summons. I heard the call when a visiting preacher gave the invitation. Much as I now might raise questions about the emotionalism and guilt of old time revival meetings, I am grateful that I can look back on a definitive moment of commitment, and I want to extend Jesus’ invitation to others.

I have learned that the call to follow Jesus comes at multiple times throughout life, as happened with Peter. Somewhere near Tabgha, after the agony and miracle of Passion Week, Jesus met Peter who had returned to fishing (John 21). Having failed to make a single catch after a nighttime of trying, Peter suddenly had 153 fish when a stranger on shore told him to cast nets on the other side.

Buck naked when he realized the stranger was Jesus, the fisherman pulled on clothes and rushed to shore. Words Jesus spoke resound in my ears: “Come have breakfast. . . Peter, do you love me? . . .  Feed my sheep . . . Feed my lambs. . .” Then Jesus added something somber: “When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

Thus Jesus summoned the big fisherman to a lifetime of discipleship, ongoing ministry, and finally death that will include martyrdom and/or physical disability. That’s daunting, and I wonder what such an all-encompassing call means for me. I find comfort and strength in words the risen Christ spoke in Galilee, as recorded by Matthew (28:20): “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a Journey of Hope tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation, including justice issues of Israel and Palestine, as we travel and worship together.
A second Journey of Hope tour on June 10-20, 2020 can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Let the Bridegroom come!

Wedding--compressedCRPalestinian weddings can last for a week, as family and friends revel through rounds of anticipatory parties. When it’s finally time for vows, men convene at the groom’s home for one last celebration before leading him away to make promises.

I came upon a wedding in the West Bank north of Jerusalem at just such a moment. The village was a jubilant jam as clapping and laughing men crowded around the groom on a side street and spilled out onto the main thoroughfare. I approached on foot, and all warmly waved me in to join the ruckus. The groom and first man were on shoulders with arms aloft. Music! Drums! Dancing!

Elsewhere family and friends prepared and adorned the bride. If a couple is Christian, the groom’s family (without groom) bring the bride and bridesmaids to church, where all await arrival of the groom and the culminating ceremony. When vows have been made, somber ritual shifts again to celebration with hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, pita bread, rice, lamb, cake–and more dancing.

Weddings are huge events in Middle Eastern culture, and family reputation is at stake. No wonder Jesus turned water to wine at a Cana wedding feast. A family that needed to show generous hospitality faced the humiliation of empty goblets.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who carried lamps and went to await the bridegroom, Jesus said (Matt. 25). Five were wise to fill their lamps with oil; five were foolish and did not prepare. The bridegroom was delayed until midnight, whereupon the foolish scurried away to buy oil. When they returned, the feast already was underway and doors shut.

What does it mean for us to be ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb, when Christ will bring justice and salvation to the world? Can we get beyond fixation on “rapture” and end-of-the-world Armageddon scenarios to see that God wants to bring a new heaven and a new earth where shalom/salaam will prevail? Do we understand that we are to start living into that transformed future now?

When John of Patmos pictures the end of this age as a wedding, the church is a bride clothed in fine linen, bright and pure. The linen is the “righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). We sinful mortals cannot earn salvation, but actions reveal our spiritual state. After telling the story of bridesmaids, Jesus also likened the inbreaking kingdom of heaven to a property owner who put servants in charge while he traveled. The owner returned to severely punish his servants for poor management. How are we managing in planet care today?

Perhaps the Bridegroom already is present in our world–as an immigrant, or single parent, or displaced person in the West Bank, or refugee from proxy wars of super powers. At final judgement, Jesus said, bewildered “goats” facing eternal separation from God will protest, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (Matt. 25:45). Come, Lord Jesus, and teach us justice to be ready for your coming.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

How a conniving ruler ends

Herod the Great, King of Judea, lay dying. Forty years earlier, he had launched his political career after Judea suffered disastrous internal strife that ended in conquest by the Romans. Seeking to restore the nation to grandeur, he befriended Rome, saved Jews from starvation during famine, and made Jerusalem’s temple precinct the largest in the world. But he was duplicitous, building shrines for emperor worship elsewhere even as he funded fabulous refurbishing of the Yahweh temple at Jerusalem. Never forgetting the assassination of his politician father, Herod was paranoid enough to fear even astrologers from the East who came seeking a mysterious newborn king.

Jericho palace CR-LD

Ruins of the bathhouse at Telul Abu Alayeq, the palace of Herod the Great at Jericho. The floor of the sauna room once rested on top of these circular hot air passageways.

Cruelty came easy to Herod, even if that meant slaughtering baby boys of Bethlehem or ordering, from his own deathbed, the execution of his son Antipater. A serial adulterer, he married ten times and murdered the favorite of his wives in a fit of bad judgment. Roman administrators understood that their client king was imbalanced, and Caesar Augustus famously remarked, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”  Presumably a Jewish king would not eat pork!

Two millennia after Herod’s death in 4 BCE, I approach ruins of the winter palace near Jericho where he breathed his last. All is parched and brown. The nearby dry riverbed (Wadi Qelt) still periodically fills with water, which supplied cisterns and bath houses in Herod’s day. I locate Herod’s swimming pool. Is this where his seventeen year-old brother-in-law Aristobulus, newly appointed high priest at Jerusalem, “accidentally” drowned while swimming? The king was known to be threatened by his gifted relative, and first-century historian Josephus declares that Herod ordered the murder.

You can tell a lot about a person’s character by what happens at their funeral; even political foes may show up out of respect for an honorable leader. That was not going to happen when Herod expired, and he knew it. So in a deathbed act of cruelty recorded by Josephus, Herod ordered that “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation” convene around him. When they arrived, he had them imprisoned in a nearby hippodrome (racetrack).

Most Jewish leaders despised Herod, and Josephus says the king knew his death would be “exceedingly acceptable to them.” So Herod ordered that at the moment he died, all the imprisoned Jewish leaders be executed without being told that he was gone. At least that way the entire nation would mourn instead of party. Mercifully, no one carried out the demented directive.

I pause at Herod’s bath house, built in classic Roman style. The sauna room is easy to identify, with its circular passageways in the foundation where hot air from a furnace heated the floor above. Herod suffered excruciating pain in his final days, and sought relief with baths. The old despot likely spent time here shortly before death, and I wonder what went through his mind. Any regrets? Could he have imagined that millions of people for centuries primarily would remember him as the ruler who tried to kill the newborn king who taught us to love our enemies and wash feet like a servant?

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Did the Good News get to Gamla?

I am alone at ruins of the ancient city of Gamla, which once stood on this mountain peak high above the Sea of Galilee. Bird sounds break spooky silence at this isolated place where thousands of Jews took their last stand against Rome in AD 67. Blood ran down steep streets of Gamla after Roman battering rams breached its walls during the great Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73. That insurrection failed and ended in destruction of Jerusalem.

Gamla compressedCR

On this mountain spur the city of Gamla once stood. Halfway up the left slope is the synagogue.

General Vespasian and son Titus commanded troops who slaughtered 4,000 Jews here. As Roman legions closed in, another 5000 Jews hurled themselves to death into ravines far below. Suicide at Gamla has an eerie echo today, with news reports of suicide bombers in various countries. The human cost of warfare–by sword, bullet, bomb, disease, famine or suicide–is staggering.

Gamla synagogue compressedCR

The synagogue at Gamla.

I make my way to ruins of the first-century synagogue. Did Jesus preach here? It’s likely, since Gamla and Capernaum are close enough to be visible to each other on a clear day. The Gospels say Jesus “went about all the cities and villages” in Galilee “teaching in their synagogues.” He proclaimed good news of the kingdom: healing the sick, forgiving sin, caring for the poor, loving enemies. Did his message “take” at Gamla?

Our Lord changes hearts and reconciles sinners with their Creator, making us citizens in a kingdom “not from this world.” This community is heaven-sent, but it takes form here and now in every generation among believers. “The kingdom of God is among you,” our Lord told disciples.

Jewish rebels were ready to die fighting Rome, and Roman soldiers were ready to perish putting down revolt. Followers of Jesus are ready to give our lives for the kingdom of God. We engage spiritual and political battle with weapons of forgiveness and divine authority to heal.

“If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting,” Jesus told Pilate (John 18:36). What a contrast to the deaths of first-century Jewish rebels and Roman soldiers, or the endless spilling of blood today in Syria just over the mountain from Gamla! In the face of such evil, nonviolence and love of enemies seem impractical. But the slaughter of 9000 Jews at Gamla is hardly a practical outcome. Death or displacement of millions in Syria today is not a practical way to solve conflict.

Jesus offers no easy solutions to corrupt government, abusive empire, social injustice or civil war. He nonviolently confronted evil, refused the sword, and faced state execution on a Roman cross. Countless followers have suffered martyrdom rather than compromise their allegiance to the Lamb.

You and I will not save the world or end all suffering by our noble, peaceful deeds. But by giving our lives daily to Jesus in living sacrifice, by showing compassion for the poor and charity toward enemies, we become a tangible expression of the kingdom of heaven. God is breaking the cycle of sin and hatred, empowering us to bring resurrection hope to the world.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Respect for both Jews and Palestinians

Canaanite gate CR

“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” With that casual aside, the biblical account of Abraham and Sarah arriving in Canaan states that the territory already was populated. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God told Abraham (Gen. 12). Today near the northern border of modern Israel there’s a mud-brick Canaanite city gate built about 1750 BCE—approximately when Abraham and Sarah arrived. Did they go through this gate? Did they know that their descendants someday would dispossess Canaanites of life and land?

Made of mud bricks, the ancient gate today stands under a hangar-like canopy for protection. A small model nearby shows how the gate effectively was a fortified building with a central passageway. Descendants of Abraham and Sarah, after a 400-year detour into Egypt, returned to conquer Canaan with swords and claims of divine mandate. Entire Canaanite cities perished. That must have been brutal for indigenous people, and raises serious ethical questions.

Today conflict still simmers, this time between Jews and Palestinians, who both trace lineage to Abraham. Most Palestinian descendants of Abraham are Muslim, and many likely also have Canaanite DNA. The Palestinian population includes the largest group of Christians in Israel and the West Bank. These followers of Jesus are not fully accepted by Jewish or Muslim majorities, and I give them (and all Palestinians committed to peace) my support. Since my Christian faith springs from Judeo-Christian wells, I also am deeply drawn to Judaism, and call on Israel to act justly.

While Jewish Israelis have suffered substantial casualties since becoming a nation in 1948, Palestinian loss is far greater. A 2016 book by Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, helps me understand the roots of Zionism and Israeli aggression. Jews suffered staggering losses through centuries of mistreatment, often at the hands of “Christians,” culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe and North America, and certain Middle Eastern nations still vow to destroy Israel.

None of this painful history justifies what too often happens today in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis have settled in the West Bank on land belonging to Palestinians. That is a violation of international law. Morally and ethically it makes Israel less secure. People of conscience around the world should protest this violation, even as we acknowledge our own sins. I own Indiana land stolen from Pottawatomie people just as surely as Jewish settlers have taken land from Palestinians.

Some religious and political progressives reflexively condemn Israel, while some Christian conservatives reflexively support everything Israel does. Neither extreme is acceptable. Especially for outsiders, humility is in order–but we must speak for just treatment of all peoples.

I want safety for both Jews and Palestinians, and all who are committed to peace. I do not support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, nor do I advocate strategies that shame and isolate. A wounded psyche is likely to respond with more hostility and violence. Instead, I want to build relationships with both Jews and Palestinians, and stand in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jesus. Both loved Jerusalem, but wanted its gates open to become a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa. 56; Mark 11). Today that would include access and safety for Jews, Palestinians, Muslims–and even Christian pilgrims like me.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Jesus calls women to the center

Magdala painting--JNKcrNancy Kauffmann of Goshen, Indiana has long been a pioneer as a woman in congregational and denominational leadership. So it’s not surprising that a painting by Chilean artist Daniel Cariola in a chapel next to the Sea of Galilee caught her attention.

She and fellow pilgrims already had seen the first-century synagogue recently discovered nearby among ruins of ancient Magdala, which probably was the hometown of Mary Magdalene. But the painting entitled “Encounter,” which shows the hand of an “unclean” woman reaching to touch Jesus (Mark 5), stopped Nancy in her tracks. When Jesus felt power go out from him, he said, “Who touched my clothes?” In front of the painting of that scene, Nancy Kauffmann spontaneously began to teach:

“Why did Jesus call out the woman who touched him? Why embarrass her in front of the crowd? Jesus could have let her quietly slip away. She had risked being humiliated, since Rabbinic law considered her untouchable due her blood issue. For twelve years she had suffered, spent all her money on doctors, and had to be desperate. Yet she believed that by touching Jesus she would be healed.

“By Jesus calling her out, he legitimized her. He brought her from the margins to the center of the community. He affirmed her boldness to ignore the law and risk touching him. Jesus called her daughter, signifying her place in the family of God. Instead of ignoring or rejecting her, Jesus invited the woman to talk, and blessed her.

 “Jesus constantly engaged women in theological discussion: the woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), or the Canaanite woman begging Jesus to heal her daughter and countering his hesitation to heal outside of Israel by saying, ‘Even the dogs get crumbs under the table’ (Matthew 15). Compared to how society treated women, Jesus engaged and affirmed them for their thoughts and their faith. He stood up for them in public—including the woman ‘caught in adultery’ (John 8; heaven knows where the partner was), or the woman who put perfume on his feet (Luke 7).

“Women could not give witness in court, and often their word was/is dismissed. Yet the risen Christ showed himself to women first. They then go back to the men to announce that Jesus is risen. Jesus himself told Mary Magdalene to proclaim the news! She had to be brave to go to the tomb in the first place in spite of what religious and civil authorities had done to him.

“Mary has courage to stay at the tomb, receive the angel, and then see Jesus. Guards play dead and then run, chief priests try to control the story by paying off the guards. But Mary Magdalene moves forward to announce the resurrection to the other disciples.” For centuries the Christian church has called her the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

 “Jesus calls women into the center of the faith community as full-fledged participants,” Nancy Kauffmann says, “and invites us to engage our minds and hearts. We too are created in the image of God.”

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/ ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //www.tourmagination.com/tour/2020-jordan-palestine-israel/

Let God do the sorting

casting net on Sea of Galilee

From a boat on the Sea of Galilee, a fisherman demonstrates the ancient art of casting a circular net. Weights along the outer edge sink rapidly, pulling the web around any living thing below. Waters next to Jesus’ ministry base at Capernaum teemed with tilapia, carp, and sardines when his first disciples plied their trade.

Fishing was a significant part of the regional economy in the first century, evidenced by names of nearby towns: Bethsaida (“house of fishing”) was hometown to Peter, Andrew, and Philip; Tariacheae (“pickled fish town,” called Magdala in Hebrew) probably was home to Mary Magdalene. Disciples of Jesus appear in the Gospels variously mending nets, fishing all night, counting fish, extracting a coin from the mouth of a fish, and eating seafood breakfast on the beach with the risen Christ.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind,” Jesus told his followers. “When it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:47-50).

At a time when some Christian denominations excommunicate or divide over sexuality and other contested matters, Jesus’ fishing parable is instructive. Galilean fishermen typically used nets, not hooks, to harvest their catch. Evangelism and church discipline, according to this imagery, are broad and inclusive. Nobody gets hooked individually by ruse or violence. Rather, the wide embrace of a net draws in a motley and diverse catch. At the end of the age these get sorted–not by you and me, but by angels.

How tempted I am to start sorting  now! Chuck out fish whose politics irritate me. Discard those not to my taste. Get rid of any whose views on sexuality don’t seem biblical according to how I interpret the Bible.

But instead of putting you and me into the sorting business, Jesus implies that we are to cast a wide net. “Follow me, and I will make you [net] fish for people,” he said (Matt. 4:19). Other biblical images likewise suggest that Jesus advocated an inclusive people-gathering. The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer’s field with both wheat and weeds, he taught. These grow side by side until harvest, then reapers (angels?) sort them and destroy the worthless plants (Matt. 13:24-30). In John’s Apocalypse, it is Christ who can remove lampstands (congregations), not the churches themselves (Rev. 2:5).

Our Lord did not suggest that belief and behavior are irrelevant to salvation. There are consequences for those who do not measure up. When God brings harvest at the end of the age, weeds will go up in smoke and bad fish end up in the furnace, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We do well to learn, practice, and teach what God requires for holy living. But thank God, we can focus on net-casting and let God do the sorting.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK mugshot 5.18 small (3)
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 (https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2019-jordan-palestine-israel/). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and view Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site along the Jordan River where God parted the waters for his people to cross, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect on themes of mission and reconciliation as we travel and worship together.