What’s so great about Galilee?

Christ calls to Peter on the Sea of Galilee in this Tintoretto painting from the 16th century. Galilee plays an outsized role in Jesus’ ministry, just as it plays an outsized role in the salvation history of the Jewish people. But why?

If you’re reading the Gospel according to Matthew, you might have noticed he highlights the fact that Jesus spent a lot of time in Galilee.

When the crowds in Jerusalem noticed the tumult of Jesus’ arrival, they asked, “Who is this?” The crowd didn’t say “Jesus of Nazareth,” but “Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee” (Matthew 21:11). Why note that Nazareth is in Galilee? Moreover, after St. Joseph was informed by an angel in a dream that it was OK to bring Mary and Jesus back to Israel after Herod’s death, where did Joseph go? Galilee. Matthew also notes that Jesus left Galilee to go meet John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13) and he returned there after John’s arrest (Matthew 4:12). Galilee is where Jesus calls the apostles (Matthew 4:18). Jesus’ disciples were also told that after Jesus was raised up, he would meet them in Galilee (Matthew 26:32, 28:7). Galilee, Galilee, Galilee! What’s so big about Galilee?

Galilee happens to be a very important place in salvation history. King David’s kingdom was comprised of all of the 12 tribes of Israel, but not long afterward his kingdom became divided. Two tribes in the south remained faithful to David’s kingdom (Judah and Benjamin). The other 10 tribes, located in the north, broke off and formed their own kingdom. These 10 tribes disappear from history after the Assyrians invade the north and take these tribes away into captivity. Galilee is mentioned as one of the last cities to be taken by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29).

The prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, spoke of God one day restoring David’s kingdom and gathering back into one the lost tribes of Israel. Where would this ingathering begin? You guessed it. Galilee. God says through Jeremiah, “Set up road markers, put up guideposts; Turn your attention to the highway, the road by which you went. Turn back, O virgin Israel, turn back to these your cities” (Jeremiah 31:21). The road to exile was from Galilee.

Jeremiah also says, “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, The mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng” (Jeremiah 31:8). Is it any wonder that it was while Jesus heals the blind and the lame while in Galilee! “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

Later in Matthew, Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee and “(g)reat crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30-31).

Isaiah also prophesied about Galilee. In fact, Matthew quotes Isaiah as saying, “’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen’” (Matthew 4:13-16 quoting Isaiah 9:1-2). Galilee did see a great light. First, they enjoyed the light of the Gospel that Jesus taught. Second, the blind and the lame were restored to heath. Third, Galilee was the location of Jesus’ first appearance after the resurrection (Matthew 28:16-17).

It’s interesting that only Matthew records Jesus’ first appearance in Galilee; Mark and Luke skip over it. John records another appearance in Galilee when Jesus appoints Peter the shepherd of his sheep (John 21). The “great light” that those of Galilee saw was the resurrected Messiah. God had changed the place of Israel’s most bitter punishment into the place of Israel’s great joy, the restoration of the Messiah King.

Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.