Rev'd Philip Heak
A little girl reached that terrifying time of day when her mother would turn out the lights in her room and leave her for the night. Afraid of the dark and of being by herself she cried out for her mother to stay. Being a woman of faith, she reassured her daughter that God would be with her through the night. ‘But, Mama,’ she cried, ‘I need a God with skin on!’
The Gospel reading today helps us put a skin on God. Namely by describing some of the places that Jesus visited and what he did.
To help us consider this, I’m going to examine some of the places mentioned in our Gospel reading. I trust that it will help you put skin on to the scripture narrative.
First let’s have a look at a map of Palestine.
Population was between 1.5 – 2million people. Ruled by puppet rulers on behalf of the Romans.
Fomerly called Caanan, the whole area was called Palestine but as you can see it’s not really a unity.
To the South we have Judea – site of Jerusalem, Jericho, the Dead Sea or Salt sea as it is on the map, and the Judaen Desert.
In the middle we have Samaria, which was non Jewish and then to the North we have Galilee, which was where Jesus spent most of his ministry.
Galilee itself was quite separate from Judea. Economically, Galilee was relatively prosperous. Compared to Judea, it had better agricultural land and resources such as fish.
It was predominantly Jewish, but there were quite a few Greek influences and cities They spoke their own version of Aramaic, which Judeans would make fun of. Judeans also generally thought that Galileans were lax in their observances of Religious rituals – in other words, not as Jewish as they should be …..
One commentator wrote that for a Galilean to be in Jerusalem, they were as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,”
The second place name we have is Nazareth. That is where Jesus grew up. The people of Nazareth were essentially farmers, so they needed space between the houses for livestock and their enclosures, as well as land for plants and orchards.
Nazareth would have had a population of around two to four hundred in antiquity, that is to say, several extended families or clans.
The families who lived there eked out a living, paid their taxes, and tried to live in peace. They were observant Jews, so they circumcised their sons, celebrated Passover, did not work on the Sabbath, travelled as pilgrims to Jerusalem, and valued the traditions of Moses and the prophets.
Understanding the faming background of Nazareth helps us to see how Jesus found many of his parables. Who else but someone living in a rural area could tell the parable of the sower.
It is from Nazareth that Jesus moves to the third place name we have in our Gospel reading.
Let go back to the map for a minute.
These days Caperaum is about an hours drive from Nazareth, so probably about a days walk.
In Biblical times Capernaum was one of the main trading villages in the Gennesaret area which was a vibrant populated and prosperous part of Palestine and was inhabited by about 1,500 people many of whom were fishermen. The village was thought to have prospered from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD when it reverted to a simple fishing village until the 1800s.
The town is cited in all four gospels (Matthew 4:13, 8:5, 11:23, 17:24, Mark 1:21, 2:1, 9:33, Luke 4:23, 31,7:1, 10:15, John 2:12, 4:46, 6:17, 24, 59) where it was reported to have been the hometown of the tax collector Matthew, and located not far from Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus may have had a house here or at least stayed in the house of one of his followers.
He certainly spent time teaching and healing there. One Sabbath, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum and healed a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit (Luke 4:31–36 and Mark 1:21–28). Afterward, Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38–39). According to Luke 7:1–10 and Matthew 8:5, this is also the place where Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion who had asked for his help.
Capernaum is also the location of the healing of the paralytic lowered by friends through the roof to reach Jesus, as reported in Mark 2:1–12 and Luke 5:17–26.
And of course, in our reading today, as Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee, after moving to Caperaum, he calls the first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John who were all fishermen.
So we have looked at four different place names. Palestine, Galilee, Nazareth and Capernaum. I hope that you can understand better the context in which Jesus lived.
Palestine itself was not really a unity but was divided between Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Galilee, the region where Jesus lived, looked down in by those who lived in Judea, but economically prosperous. Nazareth, the farming village where he grew up. Capernaum, the fishing town where Jesus based his ministry and called his first disciples.
Remember that story of the little girl who was afraid of the dark but who wanted a God with skin on. Well, for me, knowing a little more about these places helps to put a skin on the accounts of the teaching, miracles and life of Jesus.
He lived in real places with real people and real experiences. I can understand how someone was brought up in a rural community, could see the things of God in agriculture and farming. I can appreciate how the divide between Judea and Galilee, with Samaria in between, prompted Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. I see how someone who had chosen to live by a lake in a centre for fishing would call people to become fishers of men and women,
Most of all, I can trust. I can trust that in the reality of my life and the reality of your life, Jesus, the word made flesh, will be with me as he also is with you.
The writer of Matthew’s Gospel sums it up,
“23 Jesus* went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news* of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”
Lord, in every need let me come to You with humble trust saying, “Jesus, help me.”
In all my doubts, perplexities, and temptations, Jesus, help me.
In hours of loneliness, weariness, and trials, Jesus, help me.
In the failure of my plans and hopes; in disappointments, troubles, and sorrows, Jesus, help me.
When others fail me and Your grace alone can assist me, help me.
When I throw myself on Your tender love as a father and saviour, Jesus, help me.
When my heart is cast down by failure at seeing no good come from my efforts, Jesus, help me.
When I feel impatient and my cross irritates me, Jesus, help me.
When I am ill and my head and hands cannot work and I am lonely, Jesus, help me.
Always, always, in spite of weakness, falls, and shortcomings of every kind, Jesus, help me and never forsake me.