Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fresh eyes - Galilee of the Gentiles

Today part of my Bible reading was from Matthew 4:12-25.  Verse 13 starts with Jesus leaving the town of Nazareth, where he grew up.  This story is explained in much more detail in Luke 4:16-30, where Jesus basically gets up in front of people He knows in the synagogue, says He is the fulfillment of prophecy, they become furious, and take Him to a cliff to kill Him.  My Bible labels this as "The Announcement of His Ministry".  Some announcement, huh?  He pretty much had to leave or be killed, so where should He go next?  He went and lived in Capernaum.  OK.  So?  This is where my eyes were opened in a fresh way today.

Capernaum was about 25 miles from Nazareth, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Whereas Nazareth was considered by many Jews as the 'Jew trash' section, verse 15 calls Capernaum the "Galilee of the Gentiles".  I hadn't really considered this before, but this was a very big deal.  Capernaum was part of hub of transportation for people from Europe and Asia to Africa, and King Herod has chosen a spot just a couple of miles away on the tallest hill to build his temple.  And his temple was huge; a monument to the Greek culture and architecture that he loved so much.  So, while technically Capernaum was a Jewish town, it contained many different cultures and people groups - those pesky Gentiles that Jews despised and thought of as lower class.  So much so that the Jews who chose to stay in Capernaum and live and work beside these 'low-lifes' were considered second class Jews themselves (like Peter and Andrew, James and John).  Verse 16 goes on to say that because Jesus moved there:

       "the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow
       of death a light has dawned".

How amazing that in the handful of verses that I have read many times, I am reminded again that Jesus came and lived and ate and worked and loved and touched and walked in places so many people disregarded as worthless and dirty.  They didn't want any part of Galilee to be associated with Gentiles.  But Jesus did.  Its why He came--for someone like me.  A dirty Gentile.

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