When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:12-17).
Migration and relocation have been associated with human societies since ancient times. Individuals as well as groups of people migrate or relocate for a variety of reasons. Some relocate for economic reasons, others for family reasons. There are still others who relocate for security reasons, and many more. But, regardless of the immediate need that drives geographical relocation, the ultimate need that fuels all relocation is the need to pursue a better life.
Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, one can say that in a certain sense, God has also “relocated” to the earth. He relocated, not to save himself, but to save the human race and the whole world. In a somewhat eschatological sense, the Book of Revelations notes that “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race” (21:3). One can give a long commentary on this statement. But, for the purposes of this reflection, it is important to return to the passage in Matt 4:12-17.
Matthew takes pains to report an important relocation of Jesus of Nazareth. As he usually does, he is quick to point to the prophetic connections associated with Jesus’ move. He states that upon the arrest of John the Baptist, something happened: Jesus left Nazareth and withdrew to Galilee. He “went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali” (cf. Matt 4:12-13). What is so significant about Jesus’ relocation that makes Matthew care about reporting it? In verse 14 he tells us why: “that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.” Matthew is referring to Isaiah 9:1-2, which says: “But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
It is well known that Zebulun and Naphtali are numbered among the twelve tribes of Israel. The Book of Second Kings (15:29) relates that in an Assyrian invasion, Naphtali was captured along with other Israelite territories: “In the days of Pekah king of Israel Tiglathpileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abelbethmaacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria.” It is believed that the land of Zebulun as well may have fallen under the heavy hand of Tiglathpileser. Jesus’ relocation to Capernaum and the surrounding territories suggests that in his days, the lands which were affected in the Assyrian invasion were still under Gentile occupation and influence. In this context, one understands the prophecy in Isaiah as well the Matthew’s narration of Jesus’ relocation. For a long time, Zebulun and Naphtali, suffered contempt as a result of Gentile influence. But their glory will be restored by the Messiah when he appears in their midst and ministers to them, opening their eyes to the salvation of God. To be under Gentile influence, in biblical language, is to live in darkness and ignorance. It is the darkness of sin, the darkness of spiritual oppression, the darkness of the shadow of death, and finally, the darkness of slavery to the Devil. This explains, in part, why Jesus spent a better part of his public ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles: Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin, Gennesaret, and others. Isaiah and Matthew have reason to rejoice that the people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.
Jesus’ relocation to the District of the Gentiles from Nazareth, therefore, was strategic and prophetic. He knew what he was about. It was a divinely calculated repositioning. Jesus relocated to reclaim the Gentile territory for God, his Father. Being himself the fullest embodiment of the Kingdom of God, Christ relocated to dethrone the powers of darkness by filling that territory with his divine light. He wasted no time in calling the people to come out of their darkness. He did that by inviting them to repentance and acceptance of the Good News “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17; cf. Mark 1:14-15). Repentance and acceptance of the Gospel would release the blessings promised from of old: “Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Midian” (Is 9:3-4).
Dear friend, Jesus’ relocation did not end with Zebulun and Naphtali. The Lord is still moving. Now is even more a favorable time, because he is the Risen Lord of Glory. Wherever the children of God are to be found, Jesus desires to claim the territory and the people’s lives for his Father. His light is what the world needs. His light is what you also need. You may need Jesus’ light in your family, in your hometown, in your country, in your life. You are also called to inherit the promises of deliverance and salvation. I encourage you to make an act of faith. Invite Jesus into your territory, whatever that territory is: spiritual life, moral life, physical locations, thinking, studies, business, family, marriage, finances, and so forth. Wherever Jesus has been invited, things have never remained the same. What are you waiting for? Repent and accept his Lordship today. God bless you.
Invitation to pray:
Dear Jesus of Nazareth, I bless your name. I give you all the glory. Thank you for coming to save me. I invite you today into my life. Come into my territory and claim it for God. Come into my family and my homeland. Come into the world. Come and dethrone the forces of evil. Come into our territory and reclaim us for eternal life and freedom. Than you, Lord. Amen.