Withdrawal from Galilee - Part 1

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Withdrawal from Galilee - Part 1

I. Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

As we continue the survey of the Life of Christ, particularly as disclosed in Mark’s outline; the next phase is often called Jesus withdrawal from Galilee. It appears in Mark and Matthew, but it is the largest omission from Luke’s Gospel of Markan material and thus often is called by source critics Luke’s Great Omission. In addition to events that take place outside of Galilee to the north and to the east, we have Jesus briefly crossing back over the Lake only to depart from Galilee again. And we have a preface beginning at Mark 7:1 and parallel which can readily be thought of as Jesus’ theological withdrawal immediately prior to his actual geographical withdrawal. Mark 7:1-20 narrates yet another conflict story between Jesus and a group of Jewish leaders, which reflects the most serious break from conventional Judaism by Jesus thus far. What begins as a debate over ceremonial hand washing escalates to reflect the issue of kosher foods, and the short parable or metaphorical sayings by Christ that it is not what goes into a person but what comes out of them that defiles a person. In the second half of Mark 19 in a statement which modern translations often put in parentheses, we read in saying that Jesus declared all foods clean. This is almost certainly the comment of Mark as narrator with 20/20 hindsight, yet Jesus’ disciples did not immediately abandon the Kosher laws and indeed Peter required the three fold voice from heaven of unclean animals with God saying, rise and eat in Acts 10 in order to be persuaded that God was declaring all foods and indeed all people clean. But one should not be surprised that Jesus, himself, immediately departs from Jewish territory after this conflict and begins this segment of the Withdrawal from Galilee.

II. Withdrawal from Galilee

The first map slides reminds us of the regions and communities that figure most prominently in this section and is a careful relief map drawn to scale. The second PowerPoint slide also contains a relief map with fewer locations on it, but instead with diagrams reflecting on possible sequences of Jesus itinerant ministry in Galilee and then beyond. One can see that his travel within the province is by no means adopting any definable pattern, but he makes a large ark of a portion of a circle as it were, around the northern and eastern perimeter of Israel. The next slide reflects on the theological significance of the Geographical portion of the withdrawal from Galilee; after noting the segment that we have just discussed in Mark 7:1-23.

The first narrated encounter involves Jesus and a Syro-Phoenician woman. Matthew calls her a Canaanite even though there had not been any Canaanites in the land for centuries. But the use of this archaic name reflects the ongoing enmity between Jesus and the inhabitants of the Promise Land. Whatever else is going on in this passage, it would seem that Jesus is baiting the woman as he does in order to draw out what he knew to be her tenacious way. Perhaps this was for the benefit of the disciples who are not prepared to give her any time, although he begins the conversation seeming like the typical chauvinistic Jewish male. He clearly ends it by granting a miraculous healing to the woman’s daughter and setting the stage for the disciples to similarly enact his revolutionary teaching about enemy love.

Next, we come to the healing the deaf-mute, the one who could scarcely speak. Afterward, the four thousand are fed not far outside of Julius, much closer to Galilee but still in non-Israelite territory. Undoubtedly, the feeding of the four thousand corresponds so closely to the feeding of the five thousand, in order that the later might recall the former but with the different numbers of baskets, of left overs and the different words for baskets, fitting in with the different ethnic groups for whom the miracles were worked. To pick up Jesus’ term from the Capernaum Synagogue, he is demonstrating that he is the Bread of Life for both Jews and Gentiles. This is true that the account of the feeding of the five thousand occurs after Jesus crossed over the Sea of Galilee from Galilee. But there we read that many crowds followed him around the lake, so we could presume that he had a more Jewish audience with the five thousand. A brief return to Galilee leads only to his rejection there so that he is back across the lake again, talking and warning about the leaven or yeast of the Israelite leaders in route, condemning the leaders of a nation where one would have expected to receive the right response, then healing the blind man in Bethsaida, parallel to the healing of other blind men in Israel.

And finally on the road to Caesarea Philippi, a location uniquely associated with Herod Philip, Tiberius Caesar and Emperor Worship, growing particularly in the East as a response to Tiberius, but also at an earlier time, a site of the worship of the god of the forest, pan. So the area was also called Panius, a very fitting place in light of all of these alternatives pagan religions for Jesus to ask what the Jewish or largely Jewish people were saying about him. Noting their inadequate answers; he then asked, ‘what do you say about me, who I am.’ Peter gives his divinely inspired magnificent answer, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ In Matthew’s Gospel, the promise to have the Keys of the Kingdom, which led the early church, opening the doors to Jews and gentiles alike, as we see them doing it in the opening chapters of Acts, being the foundation stone or rock on which the church was built, though nothing in this context even remotely hints at anything like ongoing apostolic succession or infallible papacy. Indeed, it will not be long before Peter turns from hero to goat in no time as speaking now more akin to the motives of the Satan than of God, he rebukes Jesus when Jesus begins to talk about his necessary coming suffering and death.