Followers turn toward Jesus
Who is Jesus and why do we follow him? This is our first consideration, as we look
at a passage early in the Gospel of Matthew.
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 a light has risen up.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew
Following his baptism and encounter with the tempter in the wilderness, Jesus
withdraws to Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist.
• The scripture quotation from Isaiah 9:1-2 (verses 15-16 above) highlights
concretely where Jesus will carry out most of his ministry.
• Originally, Zebulun (where Nazareth is located) and Naphtali (where
Capernaum is situated) were two of the ten northern tribes of Israel whose share
in the “promised land” included these parts of the region of Galilee.
• They were also two of the ten tribes conquered and occupied by the invading
Assyrians in 722 BCE (see 2 Kings 15:29), with their leaders being deported to
• According to Matthew, Jesus leaves one home for another, with both homes
being situated in the land where Isaiah expected God’s new light to appear.
Matthew compares Rome’s rule over first century Galilee with the Assyrians’
domination of the region seven centuries earlier.
• In both cases foreign domination means the people of Galilee reside in darkness,
with the pall of the shadow of death always hanging over them.
• Into that darkness God has now sent Jesus to be the source of new light and life.
But the people must respond.
A disciple is a person who does respond, who turns toward Jesus, the one who
sheds light on our darkness and illuminates the path of faithfulness that lies ahead.
• The word “repent” (Greek: metanoia) in v. 17 means a “change of mind” or a
“change of direction.”
• The people must turn their minds in a new direction, away from their old ways
and habits, and toward this new light – toward Jesus – in order to escape the
darkness and danger that surround them.
• This is a turn in the direction of God’s kingdom, which the Gospel of Matthew
regularly refers to as the “kingdom of heaven.”
• In other words, we must turn to Jesus to follow him and learn his life-giving
ways that lead us to light and new life.
Questions for Reflection
• What are the places of darkness or oppression in your life? Share these with Jesus
in a prayerful conversation. Ask for his guidance.
• Turning toward Jesus and his life-giving ways requires commitment and
discipline. What disciplines sustain you in your commitment to be a follower of
O gracious God who first said “Let there be light:” send the light of Jesus into my
heart to inspire me to turn in his direction and send the light of Christ to illuminate
my pathway so that I might encounter the kingdom of heaven. Amen.