Image: Capernaum archaeological site, looking towards Simon Peter’s home
Imagine Jesus, 2,000 years ago. He had been brought up in Nazareth amongst the north Galilean hills. Imagine him leaving home and walking to Capernaum (K’far Nahum) a little fishing village about 35 km to the northeast on the upper shores of Lake Galilee. He is a very personable young man who easily draws friends around him, listening to his stories and comments. But he needs to leave home. He decides to live close enough to be able to nip back for the occasional meal and family gathering, but far enough away to establish his independence. After all he is now in his 30s. K’far Nahum is perfect for this. He had met a couple of fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, who gave up netting to live with him, as did two other brothers, James and John.
What particularly fascinated Jesus’ mates was his ability to heal sick people; the mentally disturbed, epileptics, paralytics, deaf people, blind people, cripples… you name it; they came asking for help and some were miraculously healed. No wonder great crowds followed these astounding young men. One day, a crowd had gathered at the lakeside to hear what he had to say so he sat down and talked to them
Maybe, at the back of the audience were some priests in their distinctive clothes. People who were used to showing off their authority and social standing that went with the privileges of their rank and job. Priests were seen as mediators between God and people. In fact, ordinary folk had to go to a priest for any business that required knowing what in God’s opinion they should do to be righteous. Priests had power. They had the power to help, but of course they also had the power to control others to suit their advantage. They sensed that Jesus could be a threat to their power. Perhaps Jesus was aware of their critical and superior attitude and their implied spiritual wealth because the first words that he said were: Blessed are they who know their spiritual poverty, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In the estimation of Jesus they are the really fortunate ones.
Here was encouragement for ordinary people, in fact those disadvantaged by lack of social or religious position. The bulk of those sitting in front of Jesus, who had been amazed at his kindness, his healing skills, his oratory, his knowledge, his courage and yet at the same time his gentleness, could take heart at this message. Instead of seeing themselves as marginalized by society, their lack of these very indicators of religious success were the means by which they could find the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus was almost one-eyed about the importance of ‘his’ kingdom.
It wasn’t like the kingdom of Israel, or Judah, or Babylonia but it could be planted in their hearts. It grows like a small mustard seed, it is like yeast, it is like a net cast into the sea, it is like a pearl of great price …he went on and on about it. Of all the things he taught, one might have thought that he considered it the most important idea to grasp.
Song: A kingdom in Capernaum
Tune: folksong, A-roving, major key. Jauntily
A Kingdom in Capernaum, now that’s a crazy thought,
And one that’s rather different from the reign that cruel Herod brought.
But Jesus seemed to be a King - in his own right.
Oh bless me, don’t depress me, I may have been poor but I’m not any more,
I’m happy to sing to Christ my King - the future is bright.
A king who had the natural gift of drawing a large crowd
Of sick and sad and suffering? For crying out or shouting aloud;
They came because he met their needs - in their sad plight.
His kingdom is not ‘of this world,’ it’s found inside, within,
Its virtue lies in service lived in the broken power of cancelled sin.
Its leaders are not war Lords - its strength not might