- Isaiah 9:1-4 & Psalm 27:1, 4-9
- 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
- Matthew 4:12-23
First Reading: Galilee of the nations
The brief oracle from Isaiah 9:1-4 is chosen for this week because of its intertextual link with the passage from Matthew 4. That link is, of course, retrospective with Matthew finding in its ancient words a highly valued biblical “prophecy” that Galilee would be the location for a remarkable messianic event. This positive valuation of Galilee in Matthew stands in contrast with the southern antipathy to Galilee that we find expressed in the Gospel of John:
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” (John 7:40–52 NRSV)
Second Reading: Unity that transcends factions
Last week the lectionary commenced a series of selections from 1 Corinthians, not necessarily Paul’s first letter to the community but perhaps simply the longer of the two collections of correspondence to Corinth.
Despite the prominence of the Corinthian congregation in subsequent Christian imagination (due in no small degree to the influence of Paul’s surviving correspondence with this church), surprisingly little is known of the ancient city from archaeology. For a glimpse of what we do have by way of physical remains from this important city of ancient Greece, see the following selected links:
In this week’s passage Paul is berating the Corinthians for their factionalism (what would he make of 21C Christianity with our entrenched factions and parties?) and appealing for them to appreciate their fundamental unity as devotees of Jesus Christ. The foolishness of a crucified god—the scandal (shock value) of that statement has been blunted for us by the passage of time—is held up as superior to their partisan claims to status relative to one another.
Gospel: Jesus calls the fishers of Capernaum
Fishing for Humans
Meier has an extended discussion of the disciples in the third volume of A Marginal Jew [III,19-285]. One of the elements of discipleship that he considers is the initiative taken by Jesus in calling particular persons to be his followers:
One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him. Three clear examples are given in the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 10:17-22. In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the initiative of asking to follow him. (p. 50)
Meier also notes that the promise to become fishers of humans is only made to Andrew and Peter; and is not extended to James and John.
When he does turn to the question of historicity, Meier asserts that the term “to fish humans” [halieis anthropon] is sufficiently distinctive to be identified as a phrase deriving from Jesus:
The exact phrase never occurs in the OT, and the metaphor of fishing for human beings (or using a hook to catch them) is relatively rare. When it occurs, it always has a hostile sense of capturing or killing human beings [n. 122 refers to Jer 16:16; Ezek 29:4-5; Amos 4:2; Hab 1:14-17]. The metaphor occurs at times in the Qumran literature, likewise in a negative context of destruction or judgment [n. 123 refers to 1QH 3:26; 5:7-8]. The metaphor of “catching men” is also found with a negative sense in later rabbinic literature. Thus, there is no real parallel to Jesus’ positive, salvific use of the metaphor in the Jewish tradition before or after him. (p. 160)
The small fishing village of Capernaum seems to have been the center of Jesus’ activity in Galilee.
John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (HarperSanFranccisco, 2001) devote several pages to a discussion of Capernaum in the First Century (pp. 81-97).
The most salient features to note are as follows:
- POPULATION: around 1,000 persons on 25 acres of land
- BUILDINGS: none of the Greco-Roman architecture of a significant urban center: no gates, no defensive fortifications, no civic structures (theater, amphitheater, hippodrome), no public bathhouse, no public latrine, no basilica for civic gatherings or commerical activities, no constructed agora (market) with shops and storage facilities
- STREETS: no sign of planning in layout of streets, no streets appear to have been paved, no channels for running water, sewage disposed on the site, no plaster surfaces, no decorative fresco, no marble of any kind, no ceramic roofs tiles (contra Luke 5:19)
- INSCRIPTIONS: none from 1C or earlier have been found
- HOUSES: used local dark basalt, crooked wooden beams, straw, reeds, mud. Poor quality of construction. No evidence of skilled craftsmen. Mostly single storeys and with thatched roofs (as implied in Mark’s version of Jesus healing a paralysed man). Several abutting rooms centered around a courtyard. usually just a single entrance.
- BOATS: lakeside location supported a fishing industry, but town shows no evidence of wealth. The discovery of a 1C fishing boat in 1986 (during a drought that lowered the water level) confirms the impression of a community struggling to survive but with considerable ingenuity in making the most of limited resources.
In one of his classic turns of phrase, Crossan describes Capernaum as “not a sought-after spot, but a good place to get away from, with easy access across the Sea of Galilee to any side.” (p. 81)
The following poem by Gene Stecher reflects on the significance of this site as the center of Jesus’ activity:
Capernaum, 1000 persons on 25 acres,
Egypt/India trade route a couple miles off,
Honorable locals do commerical fishing,
Dishonorable locals do toll collecting,
Didn’t take well to Jesus missionaries,
same as Chorazin and Bethsaida.
Impressive at assemblies, no scribal mush.
Words grounded in personal authority,
A rise to fame [a price to pay]!
Some guy with demons is making a commotion,
Calling Jesus God’s Holy One.
He wasn’t disappointed,
But a huge struggle for the genuine self!
Dare we be called Holy One,
confronting both inner and outer demons,
Rooted in the Ground of personal authority,
how untried and unknown is this power?
“Why are you so cowardly?
You still don’t trust do you?” (Mk 4:40)
The following articles may be of interest:
- BiblePlaces – photographs and brief notes on the Capernaum ruins
- See Capernaum for brief notes on the ancient site of Capernaum.
- Jesus Seminar – the Seminar voted Red to the proposition that Capernaum was a key center for Jesus’ activities in the Galilee, but the tradition has been developed and preserved in very different ways by each of the evangelists:
– MARK constructs an artificial “day in the ministry of Jesus” stretching from 1:21 to 1:39
– MATTHEW simply notes that Capernaum was the main location for Jesus, and then connects that with his theme of fulfilled prophecies.
– LUKE develops a visit to the Nazareth synagogue in 4:16-30 as the opening scene of Jesus’ public ministry, with Capernaum simply the next stop on his travels.
– JOHN also records a tradition that has Jesus and his followers staying for a period at Capernaum.
- See Jesus First Day for texts in parallel columns.
- 190 Fishing for Humans
- 214 Kingdom and Repentance
- 215 In Capernaums Synagogue
- 217 Healings and Exorcisms
- 218 To Other Places
Liturgies and Prayers
As January 26 is also Australia Day, some communities may wish to use a Great Thanksgiving Prayer that reflects Australian themes:
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.