Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, 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.’
— Matthew 12:4-17
Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptizer, had been arrested. Maybe the two of them had not seen or heard from each other for some time. Maybe they lived near each other and saw each other regularly. Regardless, it would be a shock to hear that a close relative had been arrested and taken to jail. What family is ready to hear news like that? Today, it is much more common than it used to be in many parts of the world, but the shock would still be there, even and especially when the person is innocent.
Matthew tells us that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum after John’s arrest. The two places were not far from each other, but it still would have taken a few days, if not a week, to walk that far. Why would Jesus move to Capernaum other than to fulfill scriptural prophecy from Isaiah? Perhaps it was time to leave home and start his ministry in a new place, or maybe it to identify himself with and continue John’s ministry. Whatever his reason, Jesus took John’s message of repentance and proclaimed it. It was an identification that the kingdom of God was coming soon and the Messiah was near.
We may not have a Jesus or John proclaiming the kingdom or the coming of the Messiah. Still, we have often seen someone accused, arrested, or even killed for something they supposedly did or said in public. We do not have to look far to find examples such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest in Birmingham, Alabama, for protesting the treatment of black individuals. He took his message all over the country. That message spread worldwide and was often adapted to cover local concerns.
There have been protests for voting rights, rights to health care, justice for minorities, and all types of social issues. There have been local, national, and international spokespersons who have suffered arrest, imprisonment, and even death to preach the social gospel of justice for those whose voices were silenced because of who they were or what race, cultural, or religious group to which they belonged.
Jesus preached about loving one another, helping neighbors and aliens alike, doing good, and loving God above all. It did not make him popular with those who disagreed with his interpretation of Scripture, but he continued preaching his message anyway. Ultimately, he, too, was arrested and put on trial. He was sent to Pilate with blasphemy charges and crimes against the Roman government. He was subsequently executed by crucifixion that same day. Only women followers were present at his execution.
By contrast, the others hid to escape arrest as Jesus’s accomplices. These days, there are often demonstrations, protests, and sometimes riots to protest similar circumstances and charges. Sometimes protesters are caught and jailed, then put on trial for their expression of protest. Many of them are imprisoned, fairly or not.
We do not usually expect religious expression by crowds to be disrupted, hampered, or even stopped by civil authorities. Just because we do not expect them does not mean they do not happen. Still, we exercise our right to protest and carry our message to those for whom the matter is not a solid “yea” or “nay.”
Jesus taught love and respect for others and demonstrated kindness and faith. He expects us to follow those teachings, even as those like MLK Jr, Nelson Mandela, and Cesar Chavez. Members of groups representing Jews or Muslims, LGBTQ+, Asian and Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and others struggle for acceptance. Those who fight with them to preserve their rights and ability to live safely are helping to bring the kingdom of God to all, not just this or that group.
It is a new year, and perhaps this year is the time for new resolutions to follow Jesus in loving our neighbors, whoever they may be. To know peace and grow the kingdom on earth, let us work to learn justice.
Image: No Justice No Peace, A lock hanging on fencing around the Hennepin County Government Center. The courthouse is currently holding the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Chauvin is charged in the May 25th murder of George Floyd in South Minneapolis. (2021). Author Chad Davis. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.