Capernaum move signals new phase of Jesus’ ministry

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

People move out of their parents’ house for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s in order to take a new job. Maybe the person just wants to live on his or her own. Or perhaps the person wants a change of scenery.

Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 4: 12-23, informs us that Jesus “left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea.” Why does he leave home?

The sea in question is the Sea of Galilee, a large inland lake in the northern part of Israel. At the time of Jesus, the fishing industry played an important role in the life of the city.

Several of those whom Jesus would eventually call to follow him as disciples were fishermen. While walking along the shore, Jesus sees them and invites them to join him in his ministry.

In issuing the call to ministry to Simon and Andrew, Jesus tells them that he will make them fishers of people. In using this metaphor, Jesus adopts a figure of speech also found in the Old Testament.

The prophet Habakkuk compares the conquered population of Israel to fish preyed upon by a fisherman: “You have made man like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler. He brings them all up with his hook, he hauls them away with his net.” (Hb 1:14-15a)

In this use of the metaphor, the fish are being caught so that they can be put to death and eaten. In contrast, Jesus wishes to catch people in order to bring them life. He turns the figure of speech upside down. That desire lies at the core of his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus wants people to repent, to change their attitudes and behavior, so that they might have life. To motivate them to this change, he does not threaten them or scare them. Instead, he proclaims to them the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is not distant. It is not pie in the sky. Instead, it is a reality close by, within their reach.

Jesus’ desire to reach more people with this message might explain why he relocated to Capernaum. It was a much larger city than Nazareth, which was only a small village at the time. The fishing industry had made Capernaum prosper and grow. Jesus’ relocation to that city would make it prosper and grow in a new and wonderful way.

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