March 18, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Move to Capernaum

See Matthew 4:12-25, 8:14-17, Mark 1:14-39, Luke 4:31-5-11  

When Jesus returned to Galilee from Judea, he moved to Capernaum, a small fishing village at the northern end of the lake known variously as the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberius and Lake Gennesaret. Peter and Andrew had a fishing business there, as did Zebedee, the father of James and John.

The three Synoptic Gospels don’t tell as much about Jesus’ previous ministry in Judea as John’s Gospel does, so they relate Jesus’ calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John as Jesus’ first disciples. There is no mention of Philip and Nathanael, whom we met earlier. Luke’s account involves the great catch of fish, while Matthew and Mark stress Jesus’ mysterious power that persuades the men to follow him only at his invitation.

If Jesus was to have a successful ­ministry in Galilee, how better to start then by preaching and teaching in the Jewish synagogues? He began with the synagogue in Capernaum. We don’t know exactly what Jesus taught other than that the kingdom of God was at hand and urging the people to repent—John the Baptist’s message.

But Jesus taught differently than John did. The people who heard him were astonished “for he taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.” The scribes quoted some earlier authority, but Jesus taught by his own authority. He made himself even greater than Moses, for he would say, “Moses said such and such, but I say to you.”

Not only did he preach with authority, but he also commanded unclean spirits to leave a man by conducting his first exorcism. The demon who possessed the man used the possessed man’s voice to cry out, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus commanded him to be quiet and to leave the man. Like an angry child might do, the demon threw the man into one last convulsion and left.

Peter and Andrew’s home was near the synagogue. When Jesus went there, he found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He immediately healed her, and she got up and waited on her guests.

By this time, word got around all of Capernaum. Everyone with any kind of illness made a beeline to Peter’s home that evening, and Jesus cured many who were sick. He also expelled many demons. (I will discuss his miracles and exorcisms in greater detail later in this series.)

The next day, Jesus did what he was to do frequently during his ministry: He found a deserted place where he could pray and meditate. Then he began to walk to other towns and villages in Galilee, preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God. (I will have much more about his teachings later in this series.)

A miracle worker had appeared on the scene, and soon his fame spread outside of Galilee—to the Decapolis (a federation of Greek cities in Palestine originally 10 in number), and to Jerusalem and other parts of Judea. Soon he was attracting large crowds. †

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