After John the Baptist is put in prison, Jesus starts his ministry in Capernaum. He calls Galileans to be among his followers. Aren’t we also in some way like these Galileans? However, what I find stimulating in this Sunday’s gospel is the location where Jesus begins his ministry: in Capernaum in the province of Galilee. Of course, that’s his home area, but there’s more to it than just that.
He brings light to those who live in the shadows of death
Bible readings Isaiah 9:1-3 Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13–14 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 Matthew 4:12-23
Galilee of gentiles, what is it?
Jesus begins his ministry in the area that the first reading echoes: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles- the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” It’s the same reading that we had on Christmas Eve (Homily for Christmas Eve, 24 December. Christ our Rising Sun).What kind of darkness is Capernaum in?
Capernaum is situated in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali found in Galilee, Northern Province of Palestine. Zebulun and Naphtali are among the tribes of Israel that somehow abandoned the alliance with God of Israel. Being in the north, they were the first to be conquered by Assyrians that led to an important presence of pagans in the area. Besides, the territory is the crossroads joining Palestine with non-Jewish towns and countries; a place where met peoples of different cultures and beliefs. So there you have a boiling pot. For that reason, the province of Galilee was despised by southerners, especially those around Jerusalem, as not being pure Jews. Galilee was seen as threshold of deviation. It’s not thus surprising that we talk of Galilee of gentiles or pagans.
In fact, in French expression “Capharnaum” means chaos. Isn’t it then eye catching that Jesus not only begins his ministry there but also chooses his followers from there?
Jesus in the shadows of Capernaum
Jesus does not start his ministry in Jerusalem the sacred place neither does he choose his followers among respected and highly educated people like Pharisees, doctors of the law, priests or scribes. He goes to those who are despised; the derided Galileans who live in the shadows of pagan contamination. Jesus places himself on border lines between good and evil, chosen people and pagans; he goes to illuminate those border lines with his light. That’s what he continues to do among us even today.
Exercise: tell me, where’s the Galilee of gentiles today?
Don’t waste your time looking for a map. You don’t need it. The Galilee of gentiles is certainly in me, probably in you too. I realise that there are times when I’m an admirable person and do others good. That’s light in me. However, there are other times too when you wouldn’t like to be cross to me especially those moments when what I say or do is drawn from the reservoir of my shadows. Yes, crossroads are present in me where a Christian and a pagan, light and darkness meet in the same person. A pagan is not someone in some far flung area where Jesus is not heard yet; he’s in me for there are some dark corners in me yet to welcome the light of Christ. Happily, the story doesn’t end there.
The Good news is that Jesus does not join the proud ones who scorn the impure. He’s rather interested in bringing them the light of liberation. That’s why he goes further to choose his followers among the disreputable Galileans. He will make them shine and then send them to bring his light to others. It’s good news that we ought to receive not only with joy but also with great humility.
Jesus illumine the dark part of my face
Look at other people’s shadows with compassion
No one is pure. We are all Galileans –a mixture even though at times we are dominated by pride that feeds on illusion about ourselves. The awareness of our own fragility should help us to be more understanding and compassionate towards others who may be struggling in their own shadows.
Jesus in Capernaum again
Through this Gospel Jesus is once again in Capernaum. He is present among us and he’s looking among us, Galileans, for friends to take part in his mission of bringing light to the shadows of our world today. We can only thank him for having confidence in us despite our shadows.
I offer you Jesus the dark side of my face, flash it with your light.
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