May 20, 2020

The DNA of Jesus’ Ministry (Matthew 4:23-25)

The Galilee provided a doorway to the greater Roman province of Syria. Its territory essentially comprised northern Palestine, bounded by the Jordan river on the east, the Mediterranean ocean on the west, and the mountains of Lebanon on the north. From Mount Hermon, 10,000 feet above sea level in the north, the “upper Galilee” descended in plains and marshland (“Lake Hula”) to the “lower Galilee” four-hundred feet below  sea level where the Sea of Galilee sat in respondent beauty. Then, as it descended further, following the course of the Jordan (the “Down-rusher”),  it gave way to the Jordan Valley, and ultimately the Dead Sea, fifteen-hundred feet below sea level. The Galilee of Jesus’ time was essentially 40 miles from north to south, and 25 miles east to west. Heavily treed, well watered with streams from the northern mountains, and fertile with black volcanic soil, it was a great exporter of olive oil, vegetables, and fish. Cut off from Jerusalem by Samaria, it stood culturally alone, producing rugged farmers, fishermen and tradesmen — the “salt of the earth” labourers who spoke with a rich accent, seemingly unperturbed by their alienation from the Jewish city-dwellers in Jerusalem. When it was asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, those elite urbanites might just have asked, “Can anything good come out of Galilee?” The Galileans ignored this snobbery and kept fishing.

As Jesus called disciples to follow him, he concurrently began to minister to the needs of the Galileans. He “proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom” by preaching and teaching in the synagogues, and he demonstrated the Good News by healing the sick.

The synagogues were a natural place for Jesus to preach and teach. Brought up with a home synagogue in Nazareth, he was culturally tuned to local synagogues as renters of worship, education, and the administration of civil law. They were like local town halls, schools, and religious community centers. Most towns had several. Jerusalem in Jesus’ time (according to rabbinic tradition) had close to five hundred. As a preacher Jesus was uncompromising in announcing the inevitability of the Kingdom of Heaven. As a teacher he expounded on the meaning and significance of that inevitability. And, as a healer, he championed deliverance from suffering. Little wonder he drew crowds.