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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Today’s Reading | Matthew 4:12–17         

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 light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (NRSV)

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospels, Jesus’ public ministry begins with proclamation. It is only in Matthew’s Gospel, though, that we see this curious addition that Jesus “withdrew” to Galilee. The other Gospels have it a little more immediate: Jesus “came” to Galilee (Mark) or “returned” to Galilee (Luke). Only Matthew has this brief pause before Jesus’ proclamation commences. What could it mean?

The Greek behind the word “withdrew” is slightly ambiguous, but Matthew is consistent throughout the rest of his Gospel in using it to mean “escaped” or “withdrew oneself.” Did Jesus escape to Galilee out of fear of arrest? Perhaps, but the scene prior had Jesus face to face with Satan, and I dare say that would have been slightly more terrifying. Instead, Jesus seems to be following a consistent pattern: before a major moment of proclamation and teaching, he seems to center himself before speaking. He withdraws to mountains, to boats, to sit beside the sea. He knows how to take a break.

In the summer ahead, many of us will make promises to ourselves to be better people: eat better, exercise more, and work harder. Perhaps we can learn from Jesus’ ministry in a different way than is typical, not by his words but by his actions. Perhaps we need to take a break—to withdraw ourselves—before returning to the busyness of our lives.

O Lord of Peace, help me to remember that the pauses in my day are not time waiting to be filled, but gentle reminders of a need for rest, a need to be in your calming presence. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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