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SUNDAY REFLECTION : Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand (September 16, 2018)

 

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ELIJAH – CROSS - MOSES

Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.Matthew 4:12-17

 

The Bible Text

 

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry.

(12) When he 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.”

 

Interpretation

 

(12) When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.

 

Why was John arrested?

Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea had imprisoned John the Baptist. Herod Antipas was one of the sons of King Herod the Great who had ruled all over Judea and surrounding regions at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided and ruled by his sons. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee. He had arrested John the Baptist because he questioned Herod’s immoral behavior of taking his brother Philip’s wife Herodias as his own and for other evil’s Herod had done. (Luke 3:19-20). According to the historian Josephus, Herod was afraid of the popularity of John and his influence on the crowds. Herod feared that John could ignite a rebellion against the king with John’s appeal to the crowd. So, he wanted to silence John by putting him in prison and did not intent to execute him for fear of agitation from the people if he would kill the prophet.

 

Why did Jesus move from Nazareth to Capernaum?

After the baptism of Jesus, both John the Baptist and Jesus used to preach and baptize people at the same time for a while near River Jordan. (John 3:22-24). The ministry of Jesus was initially centered on his hometown Nazareth. However, he later moved to Capernaum that was about 14 miles northeast of Nazareth at the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. There were multiple reasons for Jesus to move from Nazareth to Capernaum.

 

1. Because of the Messianic claims of Jesus, the people of Nazareth including his relatives and friends rejected him and even threatened to kill him. (Luke 4:16:30). So he was seeking a place of acceptance of his gospel.

 

2. The arrest of John the Baptist by King Herod Antipas also facilitated Jesus’ move to Capernaum. (John 4:12). Jesus might have wanted to move farther away from the attention of Herod because Nazareth was close to Sepphoris, the provincial capital of Herod Antipas.  Jesus had to continue his mission and his sacrifice was to take place in Jerusalem that was beyond the juridical boundary of Herod.

 

3. The early disciples of Jesus like Andrew and John, whom John the Baptist had introduced to Jesus (John 1:36-40), and their brothers Simon Peter and James were fishermen at Capernaum and they might have invited Jesus to their town for his stay and preaching.

 

4. Capernaum in Galilee was suitable place for his ministry because it was highly populated village compared to a very low population of Nazareth. Capernaum consisted of Jews and gentiles who were farmers, fishermen, or travelers. Unlike people of Nazareth and conservative leaders in Jerusalem who were against the preaching of Jesus and could not accept him as the Messiah, the people of Capernaum were open minded and receptive to the revolutionary ideas of Jesus.  Hence, Capernaum  was the better place for his ministry.

 

(13) He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,

 

He left Nazareth

Nazareth was famous only as the hometown of Jesus. It was originally a small village consisting of around 150 to 400 people when Jesus lived there. People knew each other and many were related to one another as a big family. Jesus used to go to the synagogue in Nazareth and it was here that his own people had rejected him. According to John 1:46, Nathaniel asked Philip the famous question: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” However, Isaiah had prophesied about 700 years before Christ that “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The root word of Nazareth is in Hebrew “netzer” meaning branch. Matthew connects this prophecy to the return of Joseph and family to Nazareth from Egypt. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean.’” (Matthew 2:23). It is believed that after the Babylonian exile one clan from the line of David had returned around 100 BC from Babylon and established a village in Nazareth. The Davidic clan chose to live in this place instead of Bethlehem or Jerusalem because of their fear of Herod the Great who was afraid of a king who might arise from that clan against him who was a non-Jew. Thus Joseph and Mary, who belonged to the clan of David and originally from Bethlehem were living in Nazareth.

   

Nazareth was a favorable place to live for Joseph, who was an artisan. Sepphoris, where Herod Antipas reconstructed the old city as his provincial capital, was only few miles away from Nazareth. Sepphoris was originally a city of his father Herod the Great that Romans destroyed after his death. Because of demand for artisans for reconstruction of that luxurious Greek-style city, Joseph and Jesus could find work there.

 

Went to live in Capernaum by the sea

Capernaum is located at the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum had favorable factors like water for fishing, fertile land for agriculture, and a hub of international trade routes especially connecting Egypt and Damascus by the ancient highway “Via Maris”. The trade routes helped Jesus to spread his message and his fame to all the neighboring regions. Jesus could also travel easily from Capernaum to neighboring cities around the Sea of Galilee by walking on the seashore or traveling by boat.

 

Though the lake was called Sea of Galilee there was no saltwater like other seas. The fresh water was flowing from north to the lake and was flowing out towards south through River Jordan to the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee was also known as “Sea of Kinneret” (Numb. 34:11, Deut. 3:17, Joshua 11:2), the “Lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1), “Lake of Tiberius” (John 6:1).

 

In the region of Zebulun and Naphtali

Joshua had originally assigned Galilee to the tribes of Asher, Naphtali and Zebulun when the Israelites first inhabited the promised land. Zebulun was the tenth son of Jacob and his sixth son from Leah. Naphtali was one of the 12 sons of Jacob from Rachel’s servant Bilhah. These tribes did not succeed in completely expelling the native Canaanites when they entered the land. So they had gentile influence and attacks from neighboring gentiles. The Assyrians conquered the land and exiled many Israelites scattering them so that they would not unite for any revolt against the Assyrians. Many foreigners then settled in the land. Thus, Galilee became a mixed group of Israelites and the gentiles. Aristobulus conquered Galilee for the Jews in 104 BC and forcibly made the inhabitants Jews through circumcision.

 

(14) that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:

 

Since Matthew was writing the gospel for the Jews, he gives reference to the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 9:1 that was being fulfilled through the transfer of Jesus ministry to Capernaum. The ancient Jews had expected Messiah to appear first in Galilee based on this revelation.

 

(15) “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles”

 

The attributes Matthew gives for Capernaum are meaningful. It was the border of Zebulun and Naphtali tribes of Israel though it was later got mixed with gentiles also. It was the way to the Sea of Galilee and Jews considered it as the Galilee of the Gentiles.

 

Galilee of the Gentiles

The name Galilee derived from the Hebrew word “galil” that means circle. The full name was the Galilee of the Gentiles. Galilee was, in fact circled by gentiles. Phoenicians on the west, Syrians on the north and east, and Samaritans on the south were their neighbors. Since Galilee was encircled by the gentiles, the Jews there were more open to new ideas compared to other parts of Palestine.

 

(16) “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”

 

The people who sit in darkness

The Galileans, especially those who lived in Capernaum, were physically away from Jerusalem and was exposed to many religions and ideologies. Though they had reasonable living conditions because of fishing, agriculture, and international trade routes, they were in spiritual darkness.

 

A land overshadowed by death

Those who are sinful are in spiritual darkness overshadowed by spiritual death. That would lead them to eternal destruction.

 

Seen a great light

Jesus, the light of the world, brought divine light to the spiritually dark place of Capernaum. Those who were sick and downhearted received recovery from Jesus. The sinners who thought they will have no redemption, heard the message of repentance and salvation. What Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth and got rejected was welcomed in Capernaum. “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). Thus, the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed found light at the end of their dark tunnel. Jesus proclaimed the Jubilee year of release from debts (Leviticus 25:23-38) and all types of bondages (Lev. 25:39-55), especially spiritual debts and bondages.

 

(17) From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

 

From that time on

Before basing his ministry in Capernaum, Jesus had preached in Judea and Nazareth. By that time, Jesus had become popular and enemies like Pharisees, Scribes and priests had turned against him. King Herod might be suspicious that Jesus also would talk against him leading to any revolt against him. The mission of Jesus was not to overthrow any civil authority and or establish any worldly kingdom. So, when Jesus heard of John’s arrest, he moved to Capernaum to continue his mission without any interruption. The ministry of Jesus at Capernaum was a turning point. He began to select disciples and train them as his successors to continue his mission after his crucifixion.

 

The kingdom of heaven

Kingdom of heaven and Kingdom of God are interchangeably used in the gospels. Matthew preferred Kingdom of heaven because he wanted to avoid the word “God” that his Jewish readers would not use. Both refer primarily to the rule of the Almighty rather than the territory because the whole territory belongs to God without any border. During the Old Testament times, Israel was the kingdom of God. Jesus reestablished the Kingdom of God with the church and Jesus as its head. The Kingdom of heaven in its fullness will be established when the time of redemption is over and when the time of judgement will arrive with the second coming of Christ.

 

At hand

Both John the Baptist and Jesus announced to the people that the Kingdom of God was at hand. However, John came to prepare the people for God’s Kingdom to be governed by the Messiah who was coming after him. Jesus, who was the Messiah, proclaimed that the kingdom started with him and that it was yet to be fully established at his second coming. Until then, people get the opportunity to reconcile with God and with fellow humans.

 

Repent

Jesus came to help people to repent so that they shall be saved and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist also asked people to repent before the imminent judgment. Repentance included regret on one’s failures along with a change of mind, heart, and lifestyle.

 

Repentance primarily involves turning away from sinful life. When tax collectors and soldiers came to John for baptism, they asked what they should do as part of repentance. He said to tax collectors: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” To the soldiers he said: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke 3:12-14).

 

Repentance also involves compensation for the mistakes done. When Jesus came to the house of Zacchaeus, out of repentance he declared: “’Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’” (Luke 19:8-9). Saul, who persecuted the early church, compensated by working enthusiastically for evangelization and even becoming a martyr for Jesus. Augustine who had led a sinful life in the early stages of his life, when converted by the prayers of his mother Monica, served the church earnestly and became a bishop and doctor of the church. Church declared him as a saint.

 

Repentance is required from the righteous also. It can mean a change of mind or direction for betterment. God who is perfect is said to have repented. God had decided to destroy the people of Israel at Mount Sinai because they worshipped golden calf under the leadership of Aaron. However, Moses interceded for them. Then “Then the LORD repented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (Exodus 32:14). Here, the meaning of repentance is a change of mind as given in modern translations of the Bible.

 

John the Baptist’s reply to the crowds that asked him what they should do for repentance was: “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” (Luke 3:10-11). Taking care of the needy by acts of charity was also a sign of repentance. He asked people “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Luke 3:8). Again John said, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9). Lack of good work also is part of sin. People who do not produce good fruit out of the resources God gave them need repentance. That was why Jesus asked the young man who kept all the commandments of God, to sell his property, give to the poor and then follow Jesus. The prodigal son’s elder brother did not commit any sin other than his unwilling to accept his repentant brother. This elder son also had to turn away from his ill feeling against his brother whom the father welcomed. The action required is as Jesus taught, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Thus, its twofold dimension are turning away from sin and turning towards God. So, after giving up sinful ways, we have to put into practice the gospel of Jesus Christ in preparation for the Kingdom of God that would be fulfilled in his second coming.

 

Repentance, like faith, is also a gift of God to which we cooperate. Jesus came to the world with this gift for which he gave his life as ransom for our sins. When we positively respond to it, we become eligible for its benefits. Repentance is not a ritual of baptism alone. It is an ongoing process of renewing our life in Jesus and trying to do good in favor of the Kingdom of God.

 

Message

 

1. The kings of Jews were representatives of God and they were supposed to be role models to the people. Herod did not want to give up his sins and so imprisoned John the Baptist to silence him. That led him to more sins including the beheading of the prophet John. Let us try to correct ourselves rather than maltreating those who try to correct us.

 

2. When people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, the people in Capernaum welcomed him. So, people there could be blessed by the presence of Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus took away the infirmities of many in Capernaum and gave them the message of the gospel. Let us also welcome Jesus among our midst to enlighten us and save us from the spiritual darkness.

 

3. Only Jesus can redeem us from our spiritual darkness. At baptism, we received Jesus as our light. We have to continue to keep the light shining by providing spiritual oil through our works of love.

 

4. Jesus has invited us to join his church rejecting Satan. Though we are in this kingdom of God, it will come to perfection only by the second coming of Christ. So we keep fighting against the forces of darkness in this world.

 

5. The message of Jesus is twofold. Turn away from wrong doing and move towards heaven by following the gospel of Jesus.

 

6. Saying sorry to God or to people are not sufficient.  Repentance involves acts of compensation and charity as Zacchaeus did when Jesus came a guest in his house.

 

7. Even if we feel like we are righteous, we need repentance. Even God, full of grace had repented according to the Bible. It was not because He was doing evil, but he was changing his mind to from destroying the sinners. We need to keep changing our mind more and more in favor of the kingdom of God.

 

History

History of St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, established by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on March 13, 2001.

 

Liturgical Calendar

SyroMalabar Church Liturgical Seasons and Mass Readings in English and Malayalam

 

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