February 2011 - Vol. 47.

Jesus heals a lame man, by James Tissot
The Good News of the Kingdom
By Jeanne Kun
Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.
- Matthew 4:23

Jesus alerts anyone who would listen to the fact that the victorious presence of God is at hand and that the death throes of creation and of history are about to come to an end.

- Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, 
Heart of the Word
After his baptism, Jesus went to Capernaum, a fishing village on the northwest shore of Lake Gennesaret. From this home base, he taught and preached throughout Galilee. (Matthew 4:13; Mark 2:1). Capernaum was located in the area settled by the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun in the northern kingdom. This territory had been invaded and occupied by Assyria in 734 B.C. and was flooded with Gentiles, while many of the Jewish population had been deported. When Jesus took up his ministry there, Isaiah’s prophecy foretelling the exiles’ deliverance was fulfilled:
The land of Zebulun and the land of
toward the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
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. (Matthew 4:15-16;
see also Isaiah 9:1-2)
Thus, this region, so despoiled in Isaiah’s time, was the first to see the light of Christ dawning on it. “When Christ appeared in those lands . . . something began on earth like when a stone is cast into a quiet lake and starts ripples that finally reach the farthest shores,” wrote Archbishop Oscar Romero. “Christ appeared in Zebulun and Naphtali with the signs of liberation: shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope. And this is what God is doing now in history” (The Violence of Love).

Jesus’ first message echoed that of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), and provided the bridge between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Commenting on Matthew’s gospel, theologian Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis said Jesus choose those first words “to show his debt of gratitude to the Baptist and his strict continuity with him.” However, “now the word of preparation becomes the word of fulfillment.” As the herald faithfully completed his task, the Messiah began his own and God’s promises were thus being fully realized.

Both John and Jesus challenged their hearers to repentance and conversion of heart in order to receive the kingdom of God that is, God’s reign on earth, a reign exercised in the lives of men and women. However, whereas John’s work had been to proclaim what was to happen in the future and prepare the way for it, Jesus announced a kingdom that had arrived in its fullness and was present among his hearers. Jesus proclaimed “good news,” thus personifying in himself Isaiah’s prophecy,

How beautiful upon the mountains
  are the feet of him who brings
  good tidings,
who publishes peace, who brings
  good tidings of good,
 who publishes salvation,
 who says to Zion, “Your God
  reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)
In his preaching and teaching through sermons, exhortations, and parables Jesus unfolded the values of God’s kingdom and the principles of “kingdom living” a kingdom often at odds with worldly values. It is a kingdom of priceless worth: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . .” (Matthew 13:44). It starts out small but grows into something much bigger: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven . . .” (Luke 13:20-21). It requires great humility: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was a kingdom where God reigned.

Matthew tells us that Jesus “went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matthew 4:23-24). This is a clear and concise summary of the works of the Messiah, which mirrored the messianic signs that had also been foretold by Isaiah:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be
 and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a
 and the tongue of the dumb sing
  for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6)
Indeed, these signs described by Isaiah were the answer that Jesus gave to the disciples of John the Baptist in reply to their inquiry, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-5). The miracles and healings that Christ performed both affirmed and demonstrated that he had a God-given mission to bring salvation and the good news of God’s kingdom to all who would believe.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth further emphasizes the prophetic fulfillment of God’s promises embodied in Jesus the Christ, the anointed one. When Jesus came to the synagogue as was his custom, “there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah” (Luke 4:17). Finding these prophetic words, he read to his fellow townspeople:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach
  good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to
  the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are
to proclaim the acceptable year of
  the Lord.”
(Luke 4:18-19; see also Isaiah 61:1-2)
Anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, Jesus took up the mission entrusted to him by the Father and now identified himself as the one foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy, declaring, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This declaration was “followed by the actions and words known through the Gospel. By these actions and words Christ makes the Father present among men. . . . [T]he Messiah becomes a particularly clear sign of God who is love, a sign of the Father” (Pope John Paul II, Rich in Mercy).

The good news that Jesus proclaimed and the kingdom that he ushered in confounded the expectations of most of his hearers. The glory of King David and his descendants had been dimmed by their failures, sins, and defeats at the hands of their enemies. Israel longed for an heir to David’s dynasty an ideal ruler, a messianic figure whom God would raise up to establish justice, build an empire, bring peace, and restore the throne of David. By Jesus’ time, the messiah many Jews hoped for was a political leader who would free their nation from the domination of Rome.

Jesus’ behavior and actions contradicted this understanding of a messianic ruler and transcended nationalistic conceptions of his role. Yet he seemed ambivalent about verbally declaring or clarifying his identity as the Messiah. On the one hand, Jesus did not deny that he was God’s agent, sent by God to establish the new order that he was so openly proclaiming. When the woman at the well in Samaria said, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things,” Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:25-26). And he accepted Peter’s and Martha’s professions of faith in him as “the Christ, the Son of the God” (Matthew 16:16; John 11:27). On the other hand, however, Jesus did not want to people to think of him as a political figure who would conquer Israel’s enemies and establish a new Davidic kingdom on earth, a role he refused and rejected. So when his identity was being questioned, Jesus’ responses were generally oblique:  “You have said so” (Matthew 26:64; 27:11); “Why do you ask me?” (John 18:21) “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer” (Luke 22:66).

The Messiah the Son of God, the Word-made-flesh was sent into the world by the Father to redeem humankind from sin, liberate us from slavery to sin and death, and restore us to full union with God. Each of us must search our hearts to fully recognize our own need for a Messiah so that we can receive the salvation he offers us.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

Excerpt from God's Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With Healing in His Hands

He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them

Search me through and through, O Lord.
Explore my sin-bruised being
and bind up my injuries
(whether gained through fault or folly).

As I surrender to your skilled hands and healing touch,
your fingers strip away my protections and self-illusions,
probing the wounds of my heart,
the raw sores of my soul,
my aching disappointments and mutilated hopes.
And then with patient care and Spirit’s balm,
you nurse me back to sound wholeness in you,
restoring my vitality
and giving new exercise to my so-long-crippled love.

The Scene
Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

12Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; 13and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land
   of Naphtali,
 toward the sea, across the Jordan,
 Galilee of the Gentiles—
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.”

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

23And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. 24So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.

The Scene
Luke 4:16-24, 28-32, 40-44

16And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; 17and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me to preach
   good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim release to
   the captives
 and recovering of sight to the blind,
 to set at liberty those who are
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of
   the Lord.”

20And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’” 24And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.’” . . . 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. 30But passing through the midst of them he went away.

31And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the sabbath; 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word was with authority.

40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42And when it was day he departed and went into a lonely place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them; 43but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Pondering the Word

1. Note as many similarities as you can between John the Baptist’s message and that of Jesus. What does this suggest to you? In what ways did their respective messages and missions differ?

2. Matthew and Luke stressed the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies as Jesus began to preach throughout Galilee and as he taught in the synagogue at Nazareth. How might Jesus’ consciousness of his role and identity as the Messiah as described by Isaiah have affected his public ministry?

3. Jesus proclaimed the gospel or good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; Luke 4:43).  What do you think a first-century Jew would have recognized as “good news” in the public ministry of Jesus? What good news might they think was lacking?

4. What, in your opinion, did Jesus’ hearers understand by his reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue in Nazareth? Why might they have reacted negatively to him (Luke 4:28)?

5. Why would the demons have recognized the identity of Jesus when the religious people of the day did not (Luke 4:40-41)? Why do you think Jesus forbade the demons to speak when he rebuked them?

6. Note all the geographical places listed in Matthew 4:12-13, 23-25. Relate this to Jesus’ statement in Luke 4:43: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also.” What do these two texts say about Jesus’ call and mission?

Living the Word

1. Picture yourself among the crowds that came to Jesus to be healed. How do you think you might have reacted? How easy or difficult is it for you to believe that Jesus still heals people today?

2. What effect has the “good news” had on your daily life? On your world outlook? On your eternal perspective?

3. What manifestations of the kingdom of God do you see around you?  Would someone meeting you for the first time detect any signs or clues that you are living in God’s kingdom? Why or why not?

4. In what ways have you experienced the messianic activities of Jesus described in Isaiah 61:1-2 for yourself? Which of these actions speaks most directly to you at this time in your life?

5. How are you actively sharing in Jesus’ messianic work and mission? What are some concrete ways you can build God’s kingdom in your home? In your workplace? In your parish?

6. The Jewish people had different assumptions about what a Messiah should do, and this prevented some of them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. How can our preconceptions and assumptions about how God acts in the world today keep us from recognizing his presence? Think of a time when you may have missed God’s action in your life because you were expecting something else.


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