My Notes on Matt 4:12-22

4:12. Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee;

When he heard. The Greek should probably be rendered causitively: “Because he heard that John had been arrested.” The term withdrew (ἀναχωρέω= anachōreō) is often used by Matthew to indicate the avoidance of a premature death by Jesus (Matt 12:14-15; 14:8-13). It is used repeatedly in the infancy narrative of others (Joseph and the Magi) whose movements are designed to protect the infant Messiah (see Matt 2:12-14, where it is used three times, and Matt 2:22).  Jesus’ fate is not in the hands of his enemies, in this regard Matthew’s “withdrew” is similar in function to the fourth gospel’s “His hour had not yet come” (Jn 7:30; 8:20).

The reference to John the Baptist having been arrested (παραδίδωμι = paradidōmi = par-ad-id’-o-mee), coming as it does after the baptism of Jesus (which foreshadows his death) and the testing in the desert (a satanic attempt to divert him from the mission to the cross) is ominous. The term paradidomi is often used by Matthew to foreshadow the passion of Jesus (see Judas’ “betrayal” in Matt 10:4; the “handed over” or “delivered” of the Passion Predictions in Matt 17:22, 20:18-19, and the account of the betrayal Matt 26:2, 15, 16, 21, 23, 24, 25, 45, 46).  John’s murder-the result and outcome of his mission-foreshadows the death of Jesus, both in turn foreshadow the persecution and death of those who are murdered as a result of their service to the Gospel:

  • 10:17 Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues.
    10:19 When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.
    10:21 Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.
    24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

4:13 and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 4:14 that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
4:15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 4:16 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.”

Leaving Nazareth. The reference to Nazareth recalls Matthew’s account of how it was that the Holy Family came to dwell there (Matt 2:19-23).  The Greek term the Evangelist employs for “leaving” is καταλείπω(= kataleipō), which is used only three other times in this Gospel. One of these uses can provide an excellent homiletic or meditative point: `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? (Matt 19:5). Our Lord has left his family home to take to himself his bride, the Church (Eph 5:21-32; Rev 21:9-14). Towards this end he is acquiring servants for himself (Matt 4:18-22) that he might send them out to invite all to the marriage feast (Matt 22:1-14).

And dwelt in Capernaum. Capernaum means “the village (or house) of Nahum.” Nahum is a Hebrew word, a proper masculine noun meaning “comforter”, “consolator”. One of the twelve minor prophets was called Nahum, and he-with gleeful vehemence-predicted the downfall of the Assyrian Empire, a great scourge of God’s people.

In the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In the 8th century BC the dominant force in the near east was the Empire of Assyria. It had been looking to expand its territory and commerce by taking control of kingdoms to its west so that it might eventually dominate the trade routes along the Mediterranean and the Nile. Problems on the empire’s eastern frontier however hampered its westward expansion and provided a number of western kingdoms-among them Israel and Syria (also called Aram or Damascus)-with an oppurtunity to thwart its plans. King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel formed a coalition with other states to oppose Assyria and they sought to have Judah join them, but that kingdom refused. As a result of this refusal the coalition went to war against Judah in the hope of placing a puppet king on the throne who would do their bidding. It is against this backdrop that the prophecies of Isaiah 7-12 have to be understood.

The prophet Isaiah had assured King Ahaz that the machinations of Rezin and Pekah would come to nought because of the promises made to David (Isaiah 7:1-9, see 2 Sam 7).  But Ahaz, with feigned piety refused to trust in the promises of God and brought down upon his own kingdom days worse than had been experienced since the division of the kingdom (7:10-16).

The Davidic kings had let the people of God down. Solomon had caused the united kingdom to divide in two due to his sins (1 Kings 11). His son, Rehoboam, with his frat boy mentality exacerbated the problem (1 Kings 12:1-20), and in Isaiah’s day King Ahaz was no better.  While the 8th century prophets looked forward to a time when the people would once again be united under a king of David’s line (Amos 9:8-15; Isa 8:23-9:6, NAB numbering) a member of that line, Ahaz, was busy wearying both God and man (Isa 7:13).

It was the Assyrian Empire that God had used as his rod of anger and his staff of fury (Isa 10:5) to punish His people (both kingdoms, see Isa 8:12-15), but Assyria went well beyond what God had intended (see footnote to isaiah 10:6 in the NAB). God promised that at a future time he would console his people and that consolation would begin in the tribal lands of Zebulon and Naphtali which had been the first to suffer punishment (Isa 8:23-9:6).

The Assyrians imported Gentile peoples into the conquered territory and this is seen as laying the groundwork for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God. It will be in Galilee that the Risen Lord will send out the Apostles (including the first four he is about to call) to the nations (Matt 28:18-20).

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.”

In the Isaiah prophecy (Isa 9:3) this is an allusion to “the day of Midian” which is narrated in Judges 7. Gideon, left with only a small force of men was able to defeat a huge force of Midainites and Amalekites by the power of the Lord using torches which produced a light which threw their enemies into confusion and self-destruction. In Matthew the light is not a torch, rather it is Christ.

The broader context of this prophecy of Isaiah describes the Messiah as one who will end oppression and warfare: “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'” (Isa 9:4-6, RSV).

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), consequently his warfare-and ours-is “not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). He has just opposed and defeated Satan (Matt 4:1-11) and will soon bestow the weapons of spiritual warfare upon his followers (Matt 5:1-7:27) that they might also be lights (Matt 5:14-16).

4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

From that time is often used by Matthew to indicate important new elements into his narrative (Matt 11:25; 12:1; 14:1; 16:21; 26:16). This current passage along with 16:21 and 26:16 appear to be of primary importance.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The message of John the Baptist(Matt 3:2) which will be continued by the disciples (Matt 10:7).

Repent. A total reorientation of one’s life towards God (see Isa 45:22; Acts 14:15; Col 3:2; 1 Thess 1:9; Heb 12:1-2). “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.” (Cat. Cath. Church 1889).

The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The kingdom is already present in Jesus, and with his resurrection it begins to in-break into the world through the mission of the Church or, to be more theologically correct, through the risen Christ’s work through the Church (Matt 28:18-20).

4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

As is well known Simon who is called Peter will be a person of importance in the Gospel of Matthew. After the great turning point of the Gospel (the Parable Discourse, ch. 13) Peter will be singled out in three important events in the narrative of chapters 14-17 (e.g., Matt 14:22-32; 16:13-23; 17:24-27). Andrew will quickly fade from the narrative.

Fishers of men. Some scholars see the term as an allusion to Jeremiah 16:14-21~

  • 14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, `As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’
    15 but `As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land which I gave to their fathers.
    16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17 For my eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hid from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes.
    18 And I will doubly recompense their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.”
    19 O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to thee shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: “Our fathers have inherited nought but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. 20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are no gods!”
    21 “Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.”

In this passage from Jeremiah an impending punishment (verses 16-28) is sandwiched between promises of redemption (Verses14-15 and 19-21). If Matthew intends the allusion it is probably to be understood as signifying a reversal. The fishermen in Jeremiah’s prophecy are the Babylonians who took the people away from the kingdom of David, the Apostles will bring them back.

Other scholars point out that the image of fishing is always negative in the OT, often implying judgment, and so they think that the image is intended to imply judgment. How one responds to the mission of the fishers (i.e., the Gospel they proclaim) will determine how one is judged (Matt 13:47-50; see Matt 10:14-15).

The simplest interpretation is probably the best: no connection with OT texts is implied.  “Fishers of men that is, destined to bring men into the Church and to life eternal. This is said in allusion to their former occupation. Our Lord is fond of borrowing examples from the ordinary occupations of those He addresses” (Bishop MacEvily).

4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

See our Lord’s words in Matt 818-22~

  • 18 Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.
    19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
    20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
    21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
    22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

4:21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Pseudo-Chrysostom.: Rightly did He thus build the foundations of the brotherhood of the Church on love, that from such roots a copious sap of love might flow to the branches; and that too on natural or human love, that nature as well as grace might bind their love more firmly. They were moreover “brothers;” and so did God in the Old Testament lay the foundations of His building on Moses and Aaron, brothers….But as the grace of the New Testament is more abundant than that of the Old, therefore the first people were built upon one pair of brethren, but the new people upon two.

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One Response to My Notes on Matt 4:12-22

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

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