Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 4:12-25

This section (Mt 4:12-25) contains first an account of the immediate preparation for the public life, consisting in the choice of a place adapted for this purpose and (verses 12-13), at the same time, agreeing with the predictions of the prophets (verses 14-16). Then it gives an outline of our Lord’s work in his capacity as founder of a kingdom (17-22), as teacher, and as wonder-worker (23); finally, the effects of our Lord’s ministry are outlined in a general way (24-25).

Mat 4:12  And when Jesus had heard that John was delivered up, he retired into Galilee:

1. Choice of place. a. General mark of time. According to the first gospel, this happened after John had been imprisoned, so that the gap between the temptation and the retirement to Galilee must be filled up from the fourth gospel. Hence, the following events are omitted by St. Matthew: the Baptist’s declaration to the messengers from Jerusalem [Jn. 1:19–28], his testimony to Jesus [Jn 1:29–34], our Lord’s meeting with John, Andrew, and Peter [Jn 1:35–42], with Philip and Nathaniel [Jn 1:43–51], the change of water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana [Jn 2:1–11], a passing visit at Capharnaum [Jn 2:2:12], a visit to Jerusalem and the first cleansing of the temple [Jn. 2:13–25], our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus by night [Jn 3:1–21], his ministry in Judea, during which his disciples baptize [Jn 3:22–24], dispute among the Baptist’s disciples and John’s testimony to Jesus [Jn 3:25–36], Jesus’ return to Galilee through Samaria [Jn 4:1–4], his conversation with the woman at Jacob’s well [Jn 4:5–42], his arrival and reception in Galilee together with his second miracle in Cana, the healing of the ruler’s son [Jn 4:43–54], his preaching in the synagogue and his rejection by the people of Nazareth [Lk. 4:16–30]. The synoptists omit all this, both because it belongs mostly to the Judean ministry of Jesus, and because it precedes the end of John’s ministry, during which the person of our Lord appeared to the public of secondary importance. When John was taken prisoner, Jesus rose to prominence, and it is on this account that Matthew begins the history of the public life of our Lord with the captivity of the Baptist. This event itself he relates more fully in Mt 14:4 f. in connection with John’s martyrdom; here it is only a mark of time.

b. Definite mark of time. The gospel of St. John furnishes the data for determining the time more accurately. The Judean ministry follows the paschal feast during which Jesus was in Jerusalem. Again, at Jacob’s well, when returning to Galilee, our Lord addresses his disciples [Jn. 4:35]: “Do not you say, there are yet four months, and then the harvest cometh?” If this expression is not a mere proverb, as some suppose, the journey through Samaria must have taken place in December or early in January [Tisch. Calm. Menoch. Tir. patr. etc.], so that the Judean ministry occupied a space of about eight months, and the Galilean ministry begins with the second year of our Lord’s public life.

c. Why Galilee? But how can Jesus “retire” [the Greek verb implies an escape from danger] into Galilee, the main part of Antipas’ tetrarchy, though Antipas himself had taken John prisoner? The fourth gospel [4:1 f.] suggests a solution of this difficulty: “when Jesus therefore understood that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus maketh more disciples and baptizeth more than John [though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples], he left Judea.” The Baptist then had been taken prisoner at the instigation of the Pharisees who were so boldly criticised by the penitential preacher of the Judean desert; to avoid their opposition, Jesus withdrew to that part of Palestine where they exercised a less powerful influence than in Judea.

Mat 4:13  And leaving the city Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capharnaum on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and of Nephthalim;

d. Why not Nazareth? The first gospel merely states, “and leaving the city Nazareth”; this may imply either that Jesus left the city of his own accord, finding it not suited for his public life, which demanded a more accessible place, or it may refer to the event narrated in the third gospel [Lk. 4:16–30], which cannot have been unknown to St. Matthew. It cannot be said that the first gospel transfers this occurrence to another place [Mt. 13:54–58], for we shall see that the rejection of Jesus by his fellow citizens of Nazareth told in this passage and in Mk. 6:1–6 is distinct from that told in the third gospel. Jesus therefore leaves Nazareth when his own townsmen make an onslaught on his life, so that he literally “came into his own, and his own received him not.”

He came and dwelt in Capharnaum (Capernuam). e. Why in Capharnaum? The evangelist suggests three reasons for this choice: α. The first is implied in the character of Capharnaum itself, which was a flourishing town of commerce, much frequented by strangers, situate near the great road that led from the Mediterranean to Damascus; the Romans kept here a regular garrison and a custom-house. It was on account of the free intercourse with Gentiles that the city had acquired a bad name among the Rabbis, who used to call it a heretical and free-thinking city. β. The second reason for the choice of Capharnaum is contained in the words of the gospel, “on the sea coast.” Our Lord could easily make excursions from the city to all surrounding parts. It is stated by Josephus that as many as two hundred boats used to ply on the Sea of Galilee so that there was constant facility of visiting the whole country around the lake. γ. The third reason for the choice of Capharnaum is contained in the words “on the borders of Zabulon and of Nephtalim.” This reason is further developed in the following verses.

Before leaving this subject, a word must be said about the name and the site of Capharnaum. (1) The name. The Greek name Καφαρναούμ [א B D Z Lachm Tisch Treg.] or Καπερναούμ [C E K L M Δ etc.] is the equivalent of the Hebrew כְּפַר נִהוּם, not of כ״נָעִיר, or “villa pulcherrima,” “ager pinguedinis,” “villa consolationis” [Jer. Bed.]. But the foregoing Hebrew word has been interpreted as χωρίον παρακλήσεως [Or. Hesych.], or place of consolation; this is rejected by Gesen. [ed. 7, s. v. Nahum], who maintains that כַחוּם is a proper name, so that we must render, “the town of Nahum.” (2) The site. Concerning the site of Capharnaum we may confine our discussion to three opinions: [a] Capharnaum lay in the plain Genesar. This view has been proposed by Tristram [The Land of Israel, p. 446 f.], and accepted by Grimm [ii. 521 f.]. Reasons: [α] According to 6:17 the disciples went over to Capharnaum after the miraculous increase of the loaves; now according to Mt. 14:34 and Mk. 6:45–53 the disciples came into the land of Genesareth, or the country of Genesar, after this event. Capharnaum, therefore, must have been situated in the country of Genesareth or Genesar. [β] According to Josephus [B. J. III. x. 8] there was a fountain named Capharnaum which irrigated the plain Genesareth, and which contained a fish, κοράκινος, found otherwise only in the Nile. Now Tristram found this fish only in Ain el Mudawwera, a round fountain in the plain Genesareth, the water of which passes through a small opening on the east side of its enclosing wall, and runs to the sea in a deep bed, receiving on its way many little tributaries. [γ] It must be added that Tristram himself has given up his opinion; that there are no ruins of a former town near the foregoing fountain; that the fish is found in other waters, though not seen by Tristram; and that the gospel references may be explained by the fact that the fourth gospel particularizes the place to which Jesus and his disciples came after the multiplication of the loaves, while the two synoptists describe the place in general.

[b] Capharnaum lay on the site of the present Khan Minieh. This is the opinion of Quaresmius, Robinson, Gregor, Porter, Sepp, Kitchener, Merril, etc. Reasons: [α] According to the gospel notices of Capharnaum, it must have been situated on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. [β] Josephus relates that he was carried to Capharnaum after a fall from his horse near the mouth of the Jordan, north of the lake Genesareth. This might have occurred at Khan Minieh [Vit. 72], [γ] Not far from Khan Minieh we find the fountain mentioned by Josephus, containing the κοράκινος or the “Chromis niloticus,” and watering the plain Genesar; the fountain is now called “Ain-et-Tabigah.” [δ] The very name Khan Minieh may be connected with the fact stated above, that Capharnaum was regarded by the Rabbis as a heretical city; for Khan Minieh [Minai] means city of the heretics.

[c] The third opinion identifies the site of Capharnaum with the present Tell Hum. This view is defended by Pococke, Burkhardt, Raumer, Ritter, Wilson, Thomson, Dixon, Renan, Schegg, Stanley, Furrer, Socin, Schaff, and may be called the traditional view of all the pilgrims from the fourth century. Reasons: [α] The gospels favor Tell Hum more than Khan Minieh; for though both are situated at the northwestern shore of the lake, Mk. 6:33 states that the people from Capharnaum reached the opposite shore of Genesareth sooner on foot than Jesus did in a boat; this can hardly be understood, if they had to come from Khan Minieh, but may have easily happened if they started from Tell Hum, which is nearer to the northern extremity of the lake. [β] The account of Josephus favors Tell Hum more than its rival; for after falling from his horse, at the north end of the lake, near the mouth of the Jordan, he would naturally be carried to the next town, which he himself calls Capharnaum. But the next town was Tell Hum, not Khan Minieh. Nor can it be said that the other statement of Josephus concerning the fountain excludes Tell Hum; for the fountain mentioned in the previous paragraph lies only 1 ¾ miles south of Tell Hum. [γ] The very name Tell Hum points to the former name Capharnaum, for Tell is the common designation of a heap of ruins, and Hum may well be regarded as the abbreviated Nahum; Jewish and Arabic tradition places in Tell Hum the graves of the prophet Nahum and of Rabbi Tanchuma. [δ] Besides, in Tell Hum there are among other considerable ruins distinct remnants of a large synagogue, which may have been the building spoken of in the third gospel [Lk. 7:4]. [ε] It is plain that all the arguments advanced in favor of Khan Minieh, excepting that from the fountain and the name, rather point to Tell Hum. But we have seen that what Josephus says concerning the fountain does not exclude Tell Hum; and the name “city of heretics” may have been derived from an early settlement of Christians in the place, and may have no connection with the Rabbinic view of Capharnaum. Kitchener [Quarterly Statement, July, 1877, p. 122] identifies Capharnaum with Khurbet Minyeh, which is distinct from Khan Minieh, and only ¾ of a mile distant from the fountain. But in spite of all said to the contrary, Tell Hum still remains the more probable site of Capharnaum.

Mat 4:14  That it might be fulfilled which was said by Isaias the prophet:
Mat 4:15  Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
Mat 4:16  The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up.

In these verses the evangelist develops the last reason he has given for the choice of Capharnaum. We shall first consider the quotation itself, and then its meaning. a. The quotation itself is taken from Is. 8:23–9:1 [9:1, 2 Vg.], following the Hebrew instead of the lxx. text. Since the verb קָלַל has the double meaning “to make light” [i. e. to relieve of a burden] and “to make light of” [i. e. to despise, afflict], we obtain the following rendering of the Hebrew: “As in the foretime he [God] afflicted [this is more probable than “relieved”] the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephtalim, so in the time to come he shall make glorious the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people that walked in darkness shall see a great light; on them that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, a great light shall arise.” The evangelist omits all reference to the past in his quotation, taking the object of the protasis and adding it in the apodosis by way of opposition to the subject of which the future is foretold. b. Meaning of the prophecy. The simplest way of determining the meaning is to determine first its subject, and then its predicate, both of which are expressed by parallel terms. α. The subject is determined by four different expressions:—

[a] Land of Zabulon and land of Nephtalim is the territory occupied by the two tribes, or upper and lower Galilee [cf. Jos. 19:10 f. 27, 34].

[b] This territory is more closely determined by the three expressions: the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. We call them three expressions rather than two, because we do not agree with Tisch. Winer, etc. who interpret “the way of the sea beyond the Jordan,” as if there had been a public road of commerce along the east side of the Jordan [cf. Keim, i. 597; Jans. Schanz]. (1) “The way” is in the Greek text in the accusative, and must therefore be taken adverbially like the Hebrew דֶּרֶךְ [cf. 1 Kings 8:48; 2 Chron 6:38; Winer, xxxii. 6, p. 216], meaning “on the way to”; since the sea must be the lake Genesareth, the expression “the way of the sea” limits the foregoing two to the lake country. (2) “Beyond the Jordan” most commonly signifies the country east of the Jordan [Schanz, Knab. Rosenm.]; but during the captivity the expression came to mean also “west of the Jordan,” which meaning is excluded in the present case, because Isaias wrote before the exiles. Again the Hebrew preposition עבר at times means “on,” “over,” so that “beyond the Jordan” may be explained as “the country on the Jordan.” (3) The third expression, “Galilee of the Gentiles,” means first a region thickly populated with Gentiles, but even the lxx. render it by Galilee, though this term did not embrace the whole of the province of Galilee. It was applied principally to upper Galilee, as is evident from Joseph. [B. J. III. iii. 1], Strabo [xvi. p. 760], 1 Mach. 5:15. Matthew may denote the whole northern portion of Palestine and Peræa by this term [Schanz].

[c] After defining the subject of the prophecy by its territory, the evangelist adds the inhabitants: “the people that sat in darkness” these northern districts had been from the first exposed to the greatest political difficulties. The Chanaanites, the Syrians and Assyrians [1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29] were their formidable adversaries, and Teglathphalasar led a great part of the more influential citizens into captivity [1 Chron 5:26]. Later on, the influence of the Greeks was for these territories the more dangerous the farther they were removed from their theocratic centre. The darkness therefore means proximately political misfortune; but since this was in the case of Israel connected with religious and moral depravity, these people are also described as sunk in vice and idolatry. The hopelessness of these sinners is increased by their contentment in their wretched state, implied by the word “sitting.”

[d] The subjects of the prophecy are indicated by the expression “that sat in the region of the shadow of death.” We have already noted the reading “that sat in the region and in the shadow of death,” which seems to be stronger than the simple hendiadys. In Job 10:21 the expression sets forth a place of extreme misery; the figure is taken from those on the point of death, who, though living, are already in the shadow of death. Other writers prefer another source of the figure: since the shadow is a picture of its object, the land of the shadow of death is the land in which death itself finds its image, a land, therefore, that contains all the horrors of death [Cajetan cf. Knabenbauer]. Jerome seems to prefer the former explanation; “they who have passed out of this life,” he says, “with the guilt of sin on their souls are said to be in death, but they who still have the breath of life, and can repent, are in the shadow of death.” In the passage now under discussion it means, therefore, the densest darkness of religious ignorance and of sin [Lapide].

The predicate of the promise is also expressed in parallel phrases: [a] “Hath seen a great light”; we need not say that the perfect tense is of prophetic or future meaning. The “great light” is commonly said of the sun; but the Messias, too, was promised under this figure: cf. Is. 42:6; 49:6; 60:1–3; John 1:9; 8:12; etc. The Rabbis also compare the Messias with the sun, and apply to him the foregoing passages of the prophets [cf. Schöttgen, ii. p. 160]. [b] “Light is sprung up” continues the figure of its parallel term, but represents the Messianic light as belonging to those wretched dwellers in darkness. The evangelist is about to show how this light did spring up in the territory and among the people he has previously described.

Mat 4:17  From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

 2. Outlines of the Messianic work. a. Jesus as teacher. We have already seen that the first gospel connects the formal beginning of the teaching of Jesus with the captivity of John the Baptist [v. 12], and with the settlement of Jesus in Capharnanm [13]. The doctrine of Jesus is in the beginning identical with that of John [cf. 3:2]; in this way he shows that John has been his forerunner [Euthymius], that it was he himself who spoke in the voice of John [Glossa Ordinaria, Paschasius], that he approved of John’s ministry, and that we must not be ashamed to continue the good that others have begun in a humble way [Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan], finally that he preferred a humble beginning to the proud show to which the devil had tempted him [Schanz]. We have seen, besides, that in these words the nature of the Messianic kingdom and the condition of entering it are described [cf. 3:2]. The further teaching of Jesus certainly develops these two points, but the doctrine itself does not change. In this respect both de Wette and Stranss have seriously erred: the former, because he admits a change in the doctrine of Jesus, resulting from a development of his ideas; the latter, because he thinks our Lord did not yet know that he was to fulfil the Messianic office, acquiring this consciousness only later on in his public life.

Mat 4:18  And Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers).

b. Jesus the founder of a kingdom. α. Concordance of the gospels. Andrew and Peter ware called before the time of which we now speak [Jn. 1:39, 40], but not to the apostleship; they were then invited to a more familiar acquaintance with our Lord. Again, all the apostles were definitely called to the apostleship. after the time we now speak of, before the Sermon on the Mount [Mk. 2:13–19]; but besides these points of harmony concerning which there can be no doubt, we have three other passages in which the gospels record the call of the four disciples Peter and Andrew, James and John. Of these, two evidently refer to the same occasion: Mt. 4:18–22 [the passage which we now discuss] and Mk. 1:16–20; but Lk. 5:1–11 has given rise to the following views:—

[a] The third gospel relates a call distinct from that contained in the first and second, so that the foregoing four disciples were called four times, Jn. 1:39 f.; Mt. 4:18–22 [Mk. 1:16–20]; Lk. 5:1–11; and Mk. 2:13–19. This opinion is defended by Augustine, Rabanus, Alb. Thomas Aquinas, Cajetan, Maldonado, Sylveira, Men. Kilb. Calmet, Patrizi, Coleridge, Lohmann, Arnoldi, Schanz, Keil, etc. The reason for distinguishing between the event related in the third and that told in the first and second gospel is the difference between the passage of Luke and that of Matthew. According to the former there are two ships, the fishermen wash their nets, Jesus steps into the boat of Peter, he teaches the people, then they start off from the land, the miraculous draught of fish follows, Jesus addresses Simon alone: “from henceforth thou shalt catch men;” Simon’s companions are James and John; there is nothing said of Andrew; after landing, they leave all and follow Jesus. Compare with this the account of Matthew: Jesus walks by the seashore, while Simon and Andrew throw their nets into the water; they are called; going thence, they find two other fishermen mending their nets in the ship with their father; both follow Jesus, leaving their nets, not leaving all. But the foregoing authors are not unanimous when they are asked whether Matthew or Luke relates the second call of the four. Augustine, Maldonado, Sylveira Men. Arnoldi, etc. assign the second place to the call related in the third gospel, while others prefer the inverse order.

[b] The call related by Lk. 5:1 ff. is identical with that contained in Mt. 4:18 ff. and Mk. 1:16 ff. This opinion is defended by Zacharias chrysopolit. Tostatus, Jansenius, Barradas, Lapide, Tir. Lam. Reischl, Grimm, Cornely, Fillion, Meschler, etc. Reasons: [1] The accounts of Matthew and Luke resemble each other so much that they must treat of the same occurrence. “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed him” [Lk.]. “Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men; and they immediately leaving their nets followed him” [Mt.]. [2] It is not probable that the four should have apostatized, as it were, after they had once left all for Jesus. [3] The accounts of the three synoptists may be thus harmonized: our Lord first called the four, as is related by Matthew and Mark; meanwhile the other fishermen had come on shore, and were washing their nets. When the multitudes arrived, Jesus went into the ship of Peter, and then took place what is told by St. Luke [Jansenius, Barradas].

The place of the call. The Sea of Galilee is also called Sea of Tiberias [cf. Jn. 21:1; 6:1], Lake Gennesaret [Lk. 5:1], Sea of Kinnereth [Num. 34:11; Jos. 13:27], Sea of Kinneroth [Jos. 12:3], Water of Gennesar [1 Macc 11:67], Gennesara waters [Josephus, Antiq. XIII. v. 7], lake of Gennesar [Joseph. B. J. III. x. 7], Gennesarite lake [Joseph. Antiq. XVIII. ii. 1; Vit. 65], Genesar [cf. Targum.], Bahr Tabariyeh [modern name]. The derivation of most of these names is certain beyond doubt; Galilee was the province adjacent to the lake; Tiberias was a flourishing city on the southwest shore of the same; Gennesar [the garden of princes] was a most fertile plain on the west side of the lake; Kinnereth was a city in the vicinity of the sea [cf. Deut. 3:17]. Others, however, derive this name from the Hebrew word Kinnor, meaning harp; because, they say, the form of the lake resembles that of a harp. All travellers agree in describing the lake as an irregular ellipse, whose width is about one half or one third of its length. But when they come to give the exact measurements, they differ from one another and from the statement of Josephns: 140 stadia X 40 [Joseph.]; 5 h. 55 m. X 2 h. 57 m. [Robinson]; 5 h. X 1 h. 40 m. [Schubert]; 4 h. X 2 h. [Joliffe]; 6 h. X 2 h. [Troilo]; 4 h. X 1 h. 30 m. [Seetzen]; 20 kilom. X 10 kilom. [Vigouroux]; 15 miles X 8 [various authors]. Situated 600 feet [636 feet according to Petermann] below the Mediterranean, the lake-country enjoys a tropical climate, and bears all the tropical fruits. The eastern banks of the Sea of Galilee are almost precipitous to the height of a thousand feet, while the western shore is less steep, but more picturesque. On the east there is only one break, opposite Tiberias; on the northwest lies the small bay between Chorazin and Bethsaida, with its crescent-shaped plain, about two miles in length by three quarters of a mile in width, at the southern extremity of which stood the promontory of Capharnaum. Rounding this, we come upon the rich tropical plain of Genesar, the garden of princes, teeming with rich vegetation, and hedged to the water’s brink with oleanders, and the nubk thorn, filled with myriads of sparrows [Lk. 12:6]. This plain sweeps into an amphitheatre of hills, having a width of about one mile in its broadest part, and a length of about three miles from horn to horn.

Persons called. (1) First of all, the persons called were not strangers, but had been familiarized with Jesus and his doctrine, so that we may compare them to catechumens. After the present call they may be considered as Christians, or followers of Christ, so as to prepare themselves to be formally numbered among the apostles before the sermon on the mount. (2) Again, the evangelist names Simon who is called Peter; at the time of the call, Simon was not yet known as Peter or Cephas. Though this name had been promised him when he first met Jesus [Jn. 1:42], it was not formally conferred on him till later [Mt. 16:18]. (3) Thirdly, the evangelist adds that Simon and Andrew, James and John, were brothers; Christians must be governed as brothers, and must cherish fraternal charity towards each other [Euthymius, St Bruno]. (4) Then, the evangelist adds that Simon and Andrew were “casting a net into the sea,” and that James and John were “mending their nets”; the apostolic life required men accustomed and willing to work [Henr. Scott]. (5) In the fifth place, all those called were “fishers,” so that Jesus shows his preference for humility, and manifests his intention to establish his kingdom, not by human means, but by the power of God [Jerome, Jansenius].

Mat 4:19  And he saith to them: Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.

Manner of the call. (1) On the part of Jesus the call is expressed in the following phrases: [a] “Come ye after me”; the disciples of the Rabbis constantly accompanied their masters [Schöttgen, hor. ad 1; Keim, ii. p. 204]. The disciples understood, therefore, the meaning of these words [cf. 1 Kings. 11:5; 2 Kings 6:19]. [b] “I will make you to be fishers of men”; the circumstances suggested this figure which is even now used to express the winning over of men’s hearts and minds. This may be all the disciples understood at that time; that they did not fully understand the words is seen in Mt. 19:20–26. Much less did they understand the mystical meaning of the words derived from the word ἰχθυς [fish] as applied to our Lord, or from the fact that they were to gain souls for Jesus through the water of baptism, or from the tempestuous sea of the world [cf. Hilary]. David had been called in a similar manner from the condition of shepherd to be king of Israel [cf. Ps. 78:7]. There is no difficulty in the circumstance that the disciples did not fully understand their calling; it proves only that Jesus gives more than we expect from his promises.

Mat 4:20  And they immediately leaving their nets, followed him.
Mat 4:21  And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them.
Mat 4:22  And they forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him.

(2) On the part of the disciples, we must note the following points in the manner of their call: [a] Their compliance with the invitation is “immediate,” though they were engaged in a work not easily broken off. [b] They leave all that has been mentioned in connection with them: Peter and Andrew their nets, James and John their nets and their father. [c] They follow Jesus as they have been invited to do [Alb. cf. Chrysostom, Bede, Rabanus, Thomas Aquinas, etc.]. It may he owing to this perfect obedience that three of the four, Peter, James, and John, became the most intimate disciples of our Lord [cf. Mt. 17:1; 26:37; Mk. 5:37; 13:3; Lk. 8:51; etc.]. When it is said [Jn. 21:3] that these same disciples went fishing after our Lord’s resurrection, we are not to understand that they returned to their former manner of life; they merely wished at a moment of great trial to occupy themselves by this exercise. Perhaps Andrew did not rise to such prominence in the apostolic college, because his sacrifice in following Jesus was not so great as that of his three companions: James and John left their father besides their nets; Peter left his family, for the gospel mentions his mother-in-law.

Mat 4:23  And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom: and healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, among the people.

3. Jesus as the wonder-worker. In order to show the significance of the miracles, the gospel joins them with our Lord’s doctrine and mission which they were intended to confirm. St. Matthew shows this by three concentric statements: Jesus went about all Galilee [general exercise of his mission]—teaching in their synagogues [general description of his office]—preaching the gospel of the kingdom [particular mission of Jesus].

These three must therefore be briefly explained before we come to the miracles. [a] “All Galilee” embraces the ancient territory of the tribes Aser, Nephtali, Zabulon, and Issachar, i. e. the whole north of Palestine. Its northern limits coincide, therefore, with those of the Promised Land; on the east it was bounded by the Jordan, the lake Merom, and the Sea of Galilee; on the south by Carmel and the northern mountains of Samaria; on the west by the Mediterranean and the boundaries of Phenicia. At the time of our Lord it was a rich country, thickly populated, well cultivated, filled with towns and villages which were peopled by a strong and independent race. The eastern and southern boundaries changed at times, but when they were as given above they included a space of about 1600 square miles. From Jenin, on the southern border, to the Leontes in the north, is about 50 miles, and it is about one half that distance across from the east to the west. Josephus says there existed about 204 cities in Galilee, at the time of our Lord, each numbering above 15,000 inhabitants [Vit. 45]. It was not until the time of the Machabees that the name Galilee came to denote the whole northern region; this may account for the fact that the Greek article is used in nearly every case [excepting two in the New Testament] before Galilee. We have already seen that the whole district was divided into upper and lower Galilee [cf. Joseph. B. J. III. iii. 1].

Lower Galilee may be conceived as forming a rectangular triangle, the Hypothennse of which stretches from the Kishon along Carmel, down to Jenin, measuring in all about 20 miles; the northern boundary runs along the mountains of Nazareth, from the Kishon to the hill beyond Shunem, a length of about 12 miles; on the east side, the line stretches from Shunem to Jenin, measuring about 15 miles. In the northwestern corner, the plain—for we need not say that we are describing the plain of Esdraelon—broke through the surrounding mountains, to allow the Kishon a passage into the plain of Accho. On the eastern side the plain had three openings: [1] The narrow plain of Megiddo continues through the valley between the Little Hermon on the south and Mount Thabor on the north, and opens towards the north into the plain where lie the horns of Hattin. Here occurred the encounter between Barak and Sisera [Judg. 5:12–22], the Israelites occupying Thabor, and the hosts of Sisera being encamped in the country around Megiddo; here, too, Pharao Nechao slew Josias [2 Kings. 23:29], the pious king of Juda. [2] The second opening is formed by the plain of Esreel, which passes between the Little Hermon on the north and the mountain of Gilboa on the south, continuing down to the banks of the Jordan. Here took place the battle between Gedeon and the Madianites; the latter occupied the plain, and the Israelites Mount Gilboa, where their leader tried them at the well of Harod [Judg. 6:3 ff.]; in the same plain occurred the conflict between Saul and the Philistines [1 Sam 31:2 ff.], the enemy being encamped in the valley of Esreel, and Saul with his hosts occupying Mount Gilboa; the night before the battle, Saul went across the valley, to consult the witch at Endor, and after the defeat on the following day his and Jonathan’s bodies were exposed on the walls of Bethsan. Besides, Endor, Shunem, and Naim are situated at the foot of the Little Hermon, while the celebrated vineyard of Naboth the Jezrahelite lies at the foot of Gilboa. [3] The third opening on the eastern side of Esdraelon is the plain of Jenin, forming a “cul de sac” rather than a real opening. If we call this district the plain of Jenin, we may say that it passes between the mount of Gilboa on the north and the northern mountain ranges of Samaria on the south. It was to this place that Ochozias fled from Jehu [2 Kings 9:27]; near Jenin, too, was the camp of Holofernes; further to the northwest, near Carmel, were the camps of the Roman armies. And if we change our view to Christian times, at the foot of the hill, beyond Shunem, the crusaders had their stronghold, and the French routed the Turks nearly in the same place. Through the plain of Esreel the Bedouin swarm up even to-day, and they thus become a terror throughout the plain of Esdraelon. And it may be owing to this warlike history of the country that St. John [Apoc. 16:16] places in it the gathering together of the hosts against God. In general, the plain Esdraelon is the only full break of the mountain range that runs from the north to the south of Palestine; and it was here that Israel had to defend itself against the attacks of its mighty enemies, while in wars of attack it preferred the mountains to the plain.

Passing now to the upper Galilee, we notice at once that there is a clear line of division in the mountain district itself. Drawing a line across the map, from the upper end of the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, the mountains north of the line average a height of 4000 feet, while those south of this division are mostly below 2000 feet. Though the scene of upper Galilee is most imposing on account of this conformation, it does not present the stern, forbidding character of Judea. According to Josephus the land then invited by its productiveness even those that had the least inclination for agriculture. Besides, there were two great roads passing across Galilee: one ran from Damascus across the Jordan to the plateau on the western side of the lake, and crossed to Accho by Cana and Sepphoris; the other passed around Thabor, crossed the plain, and then went southwest to Gaza and Egypt. Over these great highways merchants were passing and repassing, soldiers were dispatched, officials journeyed. It is hardly possible that these roads passed so near Nazareth without influencing its inhabitants. Nazareth was only six hours from Ptolemais on the coast, the Roman port of traffic, two hours from Thabor, Nain, and Endor, one and a half from Cana and Sepphoris, so that Jesus may have visited all of these neighboring towns during his hidden life. The gospels mention only Cana, the present Kefr Kenna, besides Nazareth.

Teaching in their synagogues. [b] Synagogues were the houses of religious assemblies, of prayer and instruction, erected after the time of the exile. They were to be found in every town; in Jerusalem there were synagogues not only for the Hellenic Jews, but also for the Jews coming from the various provinces [Acts. 6:9]. At first, meetings were held only on the Sabbath and on feast-days; but later on, they were called also on Monday and Thursday. Ten individuals were required to form a regular assembly for public worship. The chief parts of the service were the following: [1] The recitation of the Shema, so called from its first word. This was rather a profession of faith than a prayer proper [cf. Schürer, History of the Jewish People, II. ii. 77, 83 ff.]. [2] The Shema was followed by the first three and last three benedictions of the Shemoneh Esreh, at least at Sabbath and festival worship [cf. Schürer, ibid.]. [3] In the third place followed the Scripture lessons: first from the Pentateuch and then from the prophets [the Parascha and Haphthara]; both were accompanied by a running translation from Hebrew into the language of the people [ibid. pp. 79 ff.]. [4] The reading of the Scriptures was followed by an edifying lecture or sermon in which the previous lesson was explained. The preacher used to sit on an elevated place while delivering the lecture [ibid. p. 82]. [5] The last part of the service consisted of the blessing which was given by any member of a priestly family that might happen to be present; if no such priestly member was present, a prayer was said by the presiding officer [ibid, pp. 82 f.]. It is in this manner that Jesus taught in the synagogue services; for the president of the meeting often invited the strangers that happened to be present to address their brethren in a few edifying words, or to deliver the instructions on the Scripture lesson.

Preaching the gospel of the kingdom. [c] Unless our attention is called to the difference between this and the preceding expression, we are liable to regard them as synonymous. In point of fact, Jesus did not differ from any ordinary Israelite by teaching in the synagogue; but “the preaching” [κηρύσσειν] or heralding the kingdom of God was peculiar to himself and his apostles. The former expression disappears more and more in the gospels; in the later writings of the New Testament the apostolic office is always described by the term κηρύσσειν [to herald] except in Acts 4:18 and 5:28, where the Jewish authorities apply the word “teaching” to the ministry of the apostles, and Rom. 12:7; 1 Tim. 2:12, where there is question of the teaching in the community.

And healing all manner of sickness. β. After emphasizing the triple outward character of the teaching of Jesus [its variation in place, its ordinary exercise in the synagogue, its extraordinary exercise in public], the evangelist adds the divine seal of all, consisting in the miraculous cure of all manner of diseases. The miracles occupy, therefore, a secondary place, because they are of themselves only the means of confirming the doctrine; besides, in the case of the Jews, they might have confirmed their wrong ideas of a glorious Messias, had the evangelist given more prominence to their history. The various classes healed by Jesus are enumerated thus: In v. 23 the evangelist distinguishes between “all manner of sickness” and “every infirmity” or weakness implying and resulting from sickness. In v. 24 “all sick people” are divided into those “taken with divers diseases” or painless infirmities, “and torments” or acute afflictions, “and such as were possessed by devils,” “and lunatics” or men whose state of sickness appeared to depend on the moon [that epileptics are meant follows from 17:15; Lk. 9:39; Mk. 9:17], “and those that had the palsy,” i. e. those afflicted with morbid relaxation of the nerves, as happens in paralysis and apoplexy. It may not be out of place to direct the reader’s attention to the distinction made in the gospels between the evil spirits who possess their victims and the infirmity which often accompanies such possession. They may be violent, or dumb, or deaf, or blind, or epileptic; but in all cases, the demons are represented as personal beings. These persons are characterized by their intimate knowledge of the power of Jesus, which surpasses even that of the apostles; and it is owing to this very knowledge that they do not appear as hostile to Jesus, but commonly implore his mercy. It is true that in the Old Testament the mention of such possession is rare; still it is not wholly unknown: cf. Tob. 6:8, 14, 17. The power of Satan was at that time exercised by means of the idolatrous practices then generally prevalent [cf. Deut. 32:17; Ps. 107:27]. That the fourth gospel does not mention the miraculous exorcisms of Jesus is owing to the peculiar scope of St. John. Since he writes against heretics who deny the divinity of Jesus, he must prove this dogma by arguments not open to exceptions; the exorcisms of Jesus might have been impugned by John’s readers because they were performed also by members of the synagogue [cf. Mt. 12:27; Mk. 9:38; Lk. 9:49; Josephus Antiq. VIII. ii. 5; Justin Martyr, c. Tr. 85]. Besides, it is always hard to determine the reality of demoniacal possession in any given case, so that even in our days the church has reserved to herself the ultimate judgment of this. The manner of possession is described in Kirchenl. i. p. 8G5 f. We may remark here that possession must be distinguished from mere inhabitation, such as is mentioned in Jn. 13:2.

Mat 4:24  And his fame went throughout all Syria, and they presented to him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and such as were possessed by devils, and lunatics, and those that had the palsy, and he cured them:
Mat 4:25  And much people followed him from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

4. Effects of our Lord’s Ministry. The evangelist mentions two general effects: in v. 24 he describes the spread of the fame of Jesus; and in v. 25 he delineates the followers of our Lord. a. “His fame went throughout all Syria,” i. e. Syria as understood by the Romans; the Roman province of that name embraced Palestine itself. b. The followers of Jesus came from Galilee, from Judea and its capital Jerusalem, from beyond the Jordan or Peræa [which stretched along the eastern bank of the Jordan, from the Arnon to the Antilibanon, or in a more restricted sense from the Arnon to the Hieromax], and from Decapolis or the district of the ten allied cities. Since various authors enumerate various cities as belonging to this confederacy, we may assume that different towns belonged to the alliance at different times, and that the number ten was not always strictly adhered to. According to Pliny [v. 18] the following cities were allied: Scythopolis, Hippos, Gadara, Pella, Philadelphia, Gerasa, Dion, Canatha, Damascus, and Rappana. Josephus [B. J. III. ix. 7] states that Scythopolis was the greatest of the cities belonging to the confederacy; this could hardly be true if Damascus had been of the number. Lightfoot [vol. ii. Ultraiecti, 1699, p. 417] objects to having Damascus, and Philadelphia placed on the same footing with Gadara and Hippos; on p. 419 the same author adds Caphartsemach, Bethgubrin, and Capharkanaim to Decapolis, claiming the Talmudists as his source. But he neither dares nor is able to enumerate all the cities belonging to the confederacy. On the other hand he strongly objects to the catalogue of Borchardus, because it identifies the cities of Decapolis with the best known towns of Galilee: Tiberias, Sephet, Kedesch-Nephtali, Hazor, Capharnaum, Cæsarea Philippi, Jetopata, Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Scythopolis [cf. Josephus Vit. 9; B. J. I. vii. 7; viii. 4; II. vi. 3; III. ix. 7; Antiq. XIV. iv. 4; XVII. xi. 4; Schürer, II. i. 57 ff.].

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Matthew 4:12-25

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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