The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University
“Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum,
which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.”
(Matthew 4:12-13, CEB)
Short of the Resurrection, think of Jesus’ greatest, most well-known miracles and there’s a good chance they happened in Capernaum, a tiny fishing village of about fifteen-hundred people on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was so small and insignificant that its inhabitants never even bothered building a wall—invading armies would pass it by, deeming it too unimportant to occupy; even the Romans ignored it during their ruthless suppression of the Jewish people during the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–73). Archaeologists speculate that it was cramped and dirty, with several families living together in the same one-story building with no plumbing or drainage. Yet it was this nowhere village, only about 40 miles away from his traditional home in Nazareth, that became Jesus’ de facto base of operations during his three-year ministry. The Gospel of Matthew even refers to it in its ninth chapter as “his own city.”
It was in Capernaum that Jesus found his first four disciples: the fishermen Peter and Andrew and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John. (Later, Jesus would recruit Matthew, one of the local tax collectors, as another member of the Twelve.) It was in its little synagogue that Jesus astonished the people with the authority of his teaching and cast out an impure spirit possessing one of the worshippers (Mark 1: 21-27). It was along these dusty streets that Jesus healed the centurion’s paralyzed servant (Matthew 8:5-13), an astonishing act of compassion for a gentile living in his country as part of an occupying colonial force. It was in one of these packed, smelly houses that four friends lifted up a mud and thatch roof to lower their lame companion for Jesus’ healing (Mark 2: 1-5). It was on these nearby shores of Galilee that Jesus broke five barley loaves and two fish and fed the five thousand, leaving behind twelve baskets of leftovers (John 6:13). And it was on a nearby hillside where Jesus preached the greatest sermon ever known, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
And yet, it was also the place that Jesus cursed and condemned for its unbelief. “And you, Capernaum,” Jesus raged, “will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today.” (Matthew 11:23) One of the only recorded times in any of the scriptures of Jesus getting angry, and it was towards the city he called home for years. It wasn’t that the villagers denied the miraculous things Jesus did—their community was too full of those he’d healed for them to claim that kind of ignorance. Instead, they refused to see these signs and wonders as evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. “Their vision of the kingdom,” Tom Wright writes, “was all about revolution…violence to defeat violence. A holy war against unholy warriors. Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.”i He was simply the wrong kind of redeemer.
We as believers, much like the people of ancient Capernaum, have our own ideas concerning God into which we cram all our expectations and prejudices. We use Jesus as a crutch for our own political and morale agendas, wielding him more like a weapon than surrendering before him as the Christ. In doing so, we delude ourselves as powerfully as Capernaum did. We appreciate the miracles but ignore the miracle-worker; we eat the barley loaves and fish but blow off the provider; we appreciate the healing but stiff the doctor. As Christians, we must shield ourselves from such arrogance or risk the same condemnation that once echoed down to this little seaside village.
Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part One (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 133.