Gospel:  Matthew 4:12-23


A Light to the Nations


Who do you know that is wise? Who truly "enlightens" you?


Do you have a special knowledge of a practical skill? Do you have the knack that "enlightens" others? Write a self-help book! Writing such a "how-to" book is the surest way to get published, to become an "expert." Practical knowledge can lead to fame and fortune in our society. In our busy world, we need such people to light the way!


With his arrest, the ministry of the Baptist along the Jordan dwindled as his followers formed communities (see Acts 12:1-7). Now, a new light arose. He assumed the message of John, but developed a different ministry style along the Sea of Galilee.


Matthew used verses from Isaiah to transition from the Baptist' ministry to that of Jesus. No longer did people go to John for God's word. No, God's word came to the people in the person of Jesus. Jesus went out to preach, heal, and call others for the Kingdom.


Literal Translation


12 Now, hearing that John (the Baptist) was arrested, (JESUS) went back to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, traveling, HE settled in Capernaum, by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that the (word) spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:


15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
on the road to the sea (of Galilee), beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles!
16 The people sitting in darkness saw a great light;
and to the (people) sitting in the land and the shadow of death,
a light dawned for them.


17 From then (on), JESUS began to preach and to say, "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is near!"


18 Walking along (the shore of) the Sea of Galilee, HE saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea. For they were fishermen. 19 HE said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men!" 20 Leaving their nets, they immediately followed him. 21 Going on 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. 22 Immediately leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.


23 HE went all around (the region of ) Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness among the people.


4:13 Capernaum was a town on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee. The region of Naphtali lie to the west of the sea; the region of Zebulun lie to the south and west of Naphtali.


4:15 This verse used different titles to describe the same area. Galilee was settled by Jews and non- Jews alike. The road along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was a major trade road for the area, since it connected the communities along the Mediterranean Sea to Damascus.


4:19 "Come after me..." This was not an invitation to companionship, but a call to discipleship. According to Matthew, Jesus molded his ministry by preaching (especially in the synagogues) [4:17, 23], calling disciples to follow him [4:18-22], and healing [4:23]. Jesus preached exclusively to the Jews in Galilee, a culturally mixed area (unlike Judea which had a totally Jewish culture). Although he adopted John's message of repentance, he shifted its focal point. The Kingdom was no longer a coming event. It was at hand. And the subject of the message was missing. Jesus did not preach about a coming Messiah. [4:17]


Jesus' initial message created a tension that still survives to this day. Theologians speak of God's Kingdom as "Here,... but not yet." The Kingdom is present, but not fully realized. God reigns in the world because Christ is present in and through his Church. Until the Second Coming, however, the Kingdom, like Christ himself, remains hidden.


As Jesus traveled around Galilee, he actively built a following. [4:18-23] Biblical scholars speculate Galileans would network and form groups around social, economic, or religious issues. Even though the Romans put down revolts with brutal efficiency, large Jewish protests did sway official decisions, especially at the local level. There was strength in numbers. Part-time fishermen (like Peter and Andrew, like James and John) would easily take leave of their daily tasks, if the group they joined promised to protect and enhance their way of life. Proclaiming the immanence of the Kingdom (a message with political undertones for Jews), Jesus quickly amassed an audience.


Jesus also gained an audience by healing. [4:23] Israel had a folk tradition of local healers. Usually, someone would gain popularity in a certain locale. People would come to the healer's town, even their house, for relief. Jesus' message and mobility, however, set him apart. Jesus did not wait for the people to come to him. His message and ministry were too important.


Matthew quoted Isaiah (Is. 8:22-9:1) to highlight the emerging ministry of Jesus. The Assyrians brutally destroyed the area quoted in 722-21 B.C. Mindful of the devastation, Isaiah prophesied hope in a leader. For Matthew, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy as the light to the nations with a ministry in such a culturally diverse region.


A short tour around the Sea of Galilee will give us a flavor of area's diversity. This Sea itself (actually a medium sized lake) lies 700 ft. below sea level, is eight miles across at its greatest width, and has a circumference of 32 miles. Surrounded by semi-arid hills 1200 to 1500 ft. high, the lake has sudden temperature shifts that give rise to violent storms (see Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25; Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21) Still, the mild climate, abundance of water, and fertile soil made this a popular area for farming, fishing, and tourism for centuries. In the time of Jesus, the Via Maris, an international trade route that connected Syria with Egypt, lie along the western shore of the lake.


Some of the towns and cities around the lake are:


Bethsaida: a small, Jewish fishing village on the northeast shore. Home to Peter, Andrew, and Philip.


Capernaum: Home base for Jesus in his early ministry on the northwest shore. As a medium sized town, Capernaum was on the trading routes. It has been excavated for the past 150 years. Archeologists think they have found the synagogue where Jesus preached.


Decapolis: (Greek meaning "Ten Cities") Ten cities settled by Greek speaking Syrians and immigrants on the eastern shore. Jesus preached and healed in some of these cities (Gadara in Mark 4:23-25).


Tiberius: Capitol of Galilee founded by Herod Antipas in 18 A.D. in honor of the emperor. Along the Via Maris, Tiberius was known for trade, area administration, and fishing. While it had a Jewish population, the city had a cosmopolitan character. Its internal administration was based upon a Greek city model. The city lies along the southwest shore.


The western lake shore was Jewish and the eastern shore was pagan. But the small size of the lake and the trade routes along the western shore gave rise to a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, mobile atmosphere. No wonder the popularity of Jesus grew rapidly, especially among non-Jews.


Catechism Themes: "The Kingdom is at hand" (CCC 541-542)


When Jesus began his ministry, the Kingdom was truly at hand, for he embodied God's reign. By preaching the Good News and healing those in need, Jesus revealed God in the midst of his people. By gathering followers, Jesus called together God's people, his Church, so people could be close to the Father.


Who has led you closer to Christ? How has that person been a light in your life?


In Jesus' time, people sought wisdom, a light to guide their lives. They were so eager for wisdom, any new idea that came with traders from the East or South was easily accepted. We, too, live in a world eager for wisdom with many different mediums to inform us. We all look for "lights" to our way.


Jesus was a light in his message, his ministry, and his call. He revealed God to others. As his followers, we are to carry that message, ministry, and call forward.


How have you used wisdom to help you to live a Christian life? To help others live Christian lives?