#13: Galilee – ‘Up North’

Matthew 4:12-17

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“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.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus has been spending time down in Judea (Southern Israel, near to Jerusalem) with John the Baptist. Perhaps he has been a quiet observer on the edge of his movement, watching and learning.

John’s arrest means it is time for him to step out on his own mission and so he returns to his northern roots. Luke tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when he began his work and that he was led on this northern relocation by the Spirit. Rather like England today, Galilee had a strong ‘Up North’ feel to it, filled with people speaking with a strong northern accent. It was poorer and more working class than Jerusalem and Judea to the South. It lacked the money, influence and metropolitan sophistication of Jerusalem. It lacked the temple, the priests and the Pharisees. To use a certain phrase, ‘It was rough up North’. Not only that, but Galilee was not actually seen as ‘kosher’ territory. For hundreds of years it had been a ‘non-Jewish’ wilderness. The Jews had started re-colonising it just a few generations before Jesus but there were as many (and bigger and richer) Roman and Greek towns in Galilee as there were Jewish. It really was seen as the place of the Gentile. For most Jewish spiritual leaders it was a place to be avoided, for Jesus it was his beloved homeland. The place he grew up in and felt proud of. It was to become his new mission field. Jesus clearly has a very strong sense of roots and place, he shuns Jerusalem and its Temple, the centre of Jewish faith, and begins out on this northern edge that he calls home. Nazareth is actually in the south-west of Galilee, and so he moved to Capernaum, a much more central base standing on the lake itself.

This then was the setting, the stage for most of Jesus’ great missionary work.

At the beginning of 2009 I started a new job as vicar of an ‘Up North’ church in Bradford. I had been out of parish or local church ministry for 15 years. Not only was I ‘re-entering’ the life of a local church I was also ‘returning’ to my home town of Bradford in Yorkshire, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ‘Bradford of the Gentiles’. I decided to shape the whole of my ministry, and that of my church, around that of Jesus. So, I returned to my northern roots, to a missionary way of operating. I decided to see the parish (or local area in which the church is set) as our Galilee. Our calling then was to go around doing everything in our Galilee that Jesus did in his. Meeting and greeting people, proclaiming the Good News, offering prayer for healing, attempting to replace demons with inner peace.

It is not just churches that have a ‘Galilee Context’. Every individual Christian has got a place where they live and a whole network of family, friends, work colleagues etc. Add the place you live in to the people you live with and you have your own personal Galilee. Most of the people who inhabit our own little world are living in darkness. That is not to say that they are great sinners but rather that they occupy a time and place where no-one has got round to turning on the great ‘Jesus light’. His message, his life, his healing has not yet reached them. Just like Jesus our ‘Galilee’ is our ‘mission field’, our stage, and like his ours too will probably contain lots of Gentiles. The great challenge is for us to shine the light, in our Galilee and amongst our people.

To meet and befriend,
To go into people’s villages and homes,
To heal and to drive out demons,
To invite and to proclaim,
To scatter seed and to grow fruit.

Lord Jesus,
As you walked the roads of your Galilee,
May you now walk the paths into mine.
Come and visit my family and friends,
Meet my people,
Bring your healing and Good News into my human village.