A reading from the gospel according to Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
12 When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14 that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:
15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
16 the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.
17 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.
24 His fame spread to all of Syria, and they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and racked with pain, those who were possessed, lunatics, and paralytics, and he cured them.
25 And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.
Points for reflection:
1. The gospel reading above is about the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus which occurs right after His temptation in the desert. Verse 12 speaks of the arrest of John the Baptist but the whole of chapter 4 does not tell us the reason why he was arrested. We will have to wait until chapter 14 before we can know that he was arrested, imprisoned and beheaded because he told Herod of his sinful act of marrying his brother’s sister. Yet we learned in John 3:30 that John mentioned that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. Therefore, the arrest of John was a signal that Jesus will now start His own public ministry.
2. Verse 12 mentions of Jesus’ withdrawing into Galilee. It is not that He is afraid of Herod because he might also arrest Him but in fact, He was going into the territory of Herod to start His public ministry there. We have to understand that Galilee is located in the northern part of Israel which is quite far from Jerusalem, the epicenter of Judaism. At that time, Galileans were looked down upon as second class citizens, not only because of its remoteness but because of the influence of Gentiles in their life. Obviously, we see Jesus seeking the lost, the least and the last of the children of Israel.
3. Verse 14 asserts that what Jesus did was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. This is actually a recurrent assertion in the gospel of Matthew: the fulfillment of what had been said in the Old Testament. In short, Matthew wants to tell us that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan.
4. Verse 16 speaks of light as seen by people who sit in darkness. Going back to Galilee and the whole northern region of Israel, the people there were considered the lost tribes and therefore, they were living in darkness. Hence, with Jesus teaching there, light or rather the Light (with a capital L to refer to Jesus) had come to them.
5. Verse 17 shows us Jesus proclaiming the gospel of repentance, the same proclamation of John the Baptist. He also points out that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand which means it can be experienced right now and right here. In other words, He tells us that He is the Kingdom who is now with us; that if we accept Him, we can already be living under His dominion and not under the dominion of darkness.
6. The next two verses reveal that Jesus did not only preach but He also cured many kinds of illnesses. In other words, Jesus does not only bring enlightenment but complete restoration of both body and soul. So to those who feel lost or in confusion, those who are in pain or suffering, Jesus is here to give total freedom.
7. The last two verses mention that Jesus became famous throughout the region and large crowds followed Him. Let us take note that His ministry has just started but instantly, He became sort of a celebrity. Later, we would see that many of His followers left and during His arrest and crucifixion, even His closest friends were nowhere to be found. Indeed many people are easily attracted to something new and exciting but when the going gets rough, only the toughest people remain.