Jesus and John the Baptist had ministries that were linked. John was the herald who went before Jesus. He baptised people and prepared them for Jesus’ arrival. Later, when John was arrested, Jesus responded to the news by withdrawing to Galilee, where he then did the majority of his ministry. Such a move might have seemed an odd one to make but it resulted in Jesus reaching many people, teaching and healing them and growing famous.
On Thursday the readings at the 2pm service in the Cathedral were Ps 2:7-end, 1 John 3:22-4:6, Matthew 4:12-17, 23-end. The reflection follows:
There’s a saying that time flies when you’re having fun. With your mind absorbed in what you are enjoying, you can find that time passes so fast you are amazed when you next look at a clock or your watch.
It seems that time flies in Matthew’s Gospel between one verse and another. In verse 11 of this chapter, just the verse before today’s reading, Jesus was being cared for by angels after resisting the worst Satan could throw at him in the desert near the Jordan. Suddenly, in verse 12, we hear that Jesus withdraws to Galilee, having heard about John the Baptist’s arrest. With just Matthew’s Gospel in front of you there is no reason to assume that much time has passed between the end of Jesus’ time in the wilderness and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. If we take a look at John’s Gospel also it’s possible to see a different picture.
John mentions Jesus heading for Galilee in Chapter 4 verse 43 of his Gospel. It is likely that quite a lot happened between verses 11 and 12 of Matthew’s Gospel. According to John, before withdrawing to Galilee Jesus had already met and called his first disciples. At the urging of his mother he had turned water into wine at Cana and stayed in Capernaum for a short time with his mother, brothers and disciples. At Passover Jesus went to Jerusalem where he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove all the merchants out of the Temple courts. He also performed miracles which caused many people to be convinced that he was the Messiah. It seems that he came to the attention of Nicodemus who came to him at night to ask him questions. Jesus then travelled in Judea, attracting bigger crowds than his cousin John. As he then began to head north towards Galilee he passed through Sychar in Samaria where he met and talked with the woman at the well. It’s at this point that Matthew picks up the story. It’s possible that a year may have passed from verse 11 to verse 12.
We’re told that Jesus withdrew to Galilee when he heard that Herod had had John the Baptist arrested. If we heard of an army withdrawing it would suggest that they expected defeat and were heading somewhere safer. This could not be the case for Jesus as Herod ruled over both Judea and Galilee. One place was no safer than the other for Jesus. Had Jesus wanted to lie low and escape unwanted attention he would hardly have travelled and taught in public, allowing his fame to spread and to attract crowds.
Galilee was not the most obvious place for Jesus to do the major part of his ministry. In Solomon’s time 20 cities in Galilee had been given to King Hiram of Tyre who was not impressed by them. During Rehoboam’s reign Galilee became part of the Northern Kingdom, and was ruled by ungodly kings from then on. Later Assyria conquered the area, took the people captive and put people of other nations into Galilee. As a result, the population was mixed in race and looked down upon by the Jews of Judah and Jerusalem. The people of Galilee were considered to be somewhat pagan in their spiritual life. They were far away from Jerusalem in terms of geography. The people had a reputation for being less law abiding than those in other areas and often revolution was fomented there.
Capernaum was a city which covered an area of about 800 by 250 metres. It was on the coast of the Sea of Galilee in the northwest corner. The whole region was crowded and prosperous. Capernaum was on the Via Maris which was the highway between Damascus and the Mediterranean. It also had traffic passing through it from Tyre to Egypt. We know it had at least one tax collector as Levi, later named Matthew, was a tax collector before he became Jesus’ disciple. The city also had a Roman garrison. It was a good place for news to spread from via the trading caravans but couldn’t compare with Jerusalem.
There were plenty of reasons not to go to Galilee but Jesus went. We have to assume that he was making a mistake or that he had a reason for his choice. The reason is that it was God’s will that he be in Galilee. Jesus said that he did the will of his Father and to do learn God’s will he spent time in prayer. Jesus would also have been familiar with prophecies such as the one Matthew quotes from Isaiah, which says that the people in Galilee will be the ones to see God’s light, his Messiah, coming first.
Galilee was the focus of Jesus’ life and ministry in so many ways. He called all his disciples from Galilee; being a Galilean was associated with being his follower, as can see from what the maid in the courtyard said to Peter when Jesus was arrested. The women who followed Jesus were from Galilee. Nicodemus was accused of being a Galilean as he spoke words of support for Jesus. Jesus’ parents were from Galilee and he was brought up there. He arranged to meet his disciples there after he rose from the dead. Jesus and Galilee were closely connected all the time, with most of his ministry happening there, even though the climax of his life was in Jerusalem.
It seems that God wanted his Messiah to go to the people who were most in need, ‘the people who walked in darkness’, the poor in spirit. In following what God wanted, Jesus had a very successful ministry. He preached and taught and healed and his fame spread. Crowds came to him with friends and family who were suffering from all kinds of diseases and saw them healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus went all over Galilee. That would be in an area of about 110 km by 65 km. Josephus wrote that in that area there were 204 cities and villages which had at least 15000 inhabitants. Just to visit those major centres of population would have taken a long time. It’s hard to imagine just how many people Jesus healed and taught in Galilee.
So Jesus did something in the early days of his ministry that seemed strange, not at all the right way to launch such an important ministry at all. However, he was doing what God had planned and it was a success.
God’s plans don’t always make sense to our minds. God himself tells us that his thoughts are not our thoughts. If we want to be successful in what we do, we need to be humble enough to listen to God, by praying and reading his word. The world may laugh at what we then do, as people scoffed at Jesus, but if we are in line with God it will work out.
Many people laugh at the idea of a church in SL. They think we are playing games, are out of touch with reality, are a bit insane, are hiding from life. I believe we are where we should be. We can never afford to become complacent, we must keep on listening and allowing ourselves to be guided by God, but for now this is where we belong. I pray that God may be glorified by all that we do as he was by Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor