There are several locations which Christians immediately associate with
the life of Jesus. There is Bethlehem, in Judea, where Jesus was born;
Nazareth, in Galilee, where he grew up; and Jerusalem, where he was crucified.
These are the places where Jesus began and ended his life. But the places where
Jesus carried out his ministry are less familiar.
The most frequently mentioned town, and perhaps the most memorable, is
Capernaum. Jesus seems to have made his ministry’s headquarters there -- at the
home of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Not only does Jesus return again and
again, but when the gospels of Mark and Luke say Jesus “returned to his
hometown,” they usually mean Capernaum rather than Nazareth.
It should then not be surprising that many of the other named locations
of his ministry are near Capernaum, such as Ginnesar, Chorazin, Bethsaida and
Gergesa. These are the most frequently mentioned places in Matthew, Mark and
Luke, and most of Jesus’ ministry takes place in and around them.
These towns bring out another observation about Jesus’ ministry. It took
place around the Sea of Galilee. Several other events, such as Jesus driving
out demons or preaching to large crowds, take place at unnamed locations “in
the wilderness” on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At another point, Jesus
takes a trip into the “cities of the Decapolis,” a region on the southeast
shore of the Sea of Galilee.
All this points to a single conclusion. For most of his ministry, Jesus
based himself on the Sea of Galilee and used it as a means of transportation.
This shows that Jesus took advantage of the fastest mode of transportation in
the ancient world, the sailboat. Neither walking nor riding on donkeys or
camels could match the speed or the comfort of moving about on the water. By sailing, Jesus could cover the most
“ground” in the least amount of time.
While Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee was a good transportation choice
for Jesus’ activities, it raises the question, what was Jesus doing so far from
home? In the ancient world, few people ever traveled more than a day’s walk,
about 15 miles, from the place where they were born. After all, their entire
family, the family land, as well as their livelihood and responsibilities were
all right there.
To leave familial territory was to cut off contact with one’s family,
for there were no means of communication. Few people could read or write a
letter, but even if they could, there was no postal service. And, of course,
the telephone and email were millennia in the future. So what Jesus was doing
was a two-day journey, some 30 miles by road, away from his home in Nazareth.
Most of the gospels ignore this question, but Luke addresses it head-on.
In Luke’s story, once John the Baptist baptized Jesus, Jesus fasted for 40 days
in the wilderness. Jesus then returned to Nazareth where, in the synagogue, he
claimed to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of being God’s chosen
messenger. This bold claim was seen by the villagers as blasphemy and they
attempted to carry the appropriate punishment for this sin, death. They could
only see him as Joseph’s son, who had grown up among them, rather than a
prophet. Jesus escaped from them and left the area. According to Luke, Jesus
then proceeded directly to Capernaum to begin his ministry around the Sea of
So Jesus picked the best location in Galilee for his ministry, the
transportation center of the Sea of Galilee. In doing so, he left his home
region behind, but he was pushed out by the inability of those with whom he had
grown up to grasp his new role.
Labels: Bethsaida, Capernaum, Jesus, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Nazareth, sailing, sailor, sea of Galilee, transportation center