Tuesday, October 10, 2017


At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus established a base of operations near the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum, about 40 miles from Nazareth where he had grown up. Matthew tells us he made this move right after the arrest of John the Baptist, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

It was near Capernaum that he called his first disciples, preached the Sermon on the Mount and calmed the storm. It was from the same region that he sent out the Twelve into the rest of Israel to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.

Galilee and Thereabouts

Chorazin and Bethsaida, two Galilean cities the Lord later denounced, were respectively two and ten miles away, and thus benefited from miracle after miracle and message after message.

In Capernaum he drove the Pharisees to the breaking point, and he was still there when his mother and brothers presumably made the trek down from Nazareth to stage what may have been intended as an intervention. Which makes his dismissal of them all the more interesting, doesn’t it? They hadn’t just wandered over from the next town to retrieve him.

His Own City

We don’t often think of the Lord having a home, maybe because he famously declared, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” and it seems he said this at least once while residing in Capernaum. Now of course he went out from Capernaum to other places so many times that those of us who have failed to notice its prominence in his ministry can hardly be blamed.

All the same, Matthew refers to Capernaum as “his own city”, and Mark calls it “home”.

Interesting, no? Now, there is some debate as to how to best translate oikos here, since the word means both “house” and “home”, but the latter is more likely the intended meaning in Mark 2, and almost all modern translations go that route. In any case, even “house” suggests the Lord was living somewhere specific on a semi-regular basis, so that the locals knew where he might be found.

Whose House Was That?

There’s even a reference later in the same chapter to the Lord reclining “at table in his house”, which this New Testament professor takes to mean that the Lord may have had his own place in Capernaum.

Now, that’s neither a necessary nor a common conclusion. Most take the “his” to refer to Levi rather than Jesus, since the Lord had just called him moments before. It would not be outrageous for the Lord to call a disciple and promptly invite himself over to dinner. He did just that with Zacchaeus. Also, the “tax collectors and sinners” he ate with that day are better explained by the meal being at Levi’s house, since Levi was one of the former. And the clincher is that Luke flat-out says that Levi “made him a great feast in his house”, which should seal the deal for anyone who believes in the inspiration of scripture.

Remain in the Same House

Given his circumstances, I doubt Jesus owned or rented anything. It seems far more likely to me that he simply stayed with the first disciple in Capernaum who had the means to offer him hospitality. When he sent out the seventy-two to preach in advance of him, the Lord gave them these instructions:
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”
Since he instructed his disciples to remain in the same house, it is highly likely that the Lord had first modeled for them that same behavior.

The Closest Thing to an Earthly Home

Frankly, the peace of Christ resting on a household sounds like an awfully good deal in exchange for a few meals and a place to come back to at night. I can imagine any number of his more well-off followers jumping at the chance to have Messiah in their home regularly.

Anyway, assuming it was the same home, the house in Capernaum comes up one more time in Mark’s gospel, where we discover it was big enough to accommodate the Lord’s disciples.

So while we cannot be dogmatic about the circumstances, I think we can fairly say that Capernaum was the closest thing to an earthly home the Lord ever had during his years of ministry.

Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood

How did that work out for Capernaum, you ask? Well, that city and its surrounding regions may well have seen more miracles and heard more instruction than anywhere else in Israel, but the residents of Capernaum failed to respond to the Lord’s generosity.

John’s gospel records that it was in Capernaum that Jesus finally divided wheat from chaff among his own disciples by antagonizing the unbelieving ones (and perplexing the believing ones) with the repeated declaration that they must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood in order to have life. John sums up the story by saying, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

It is difficult to construe this as anything but a deliberate act.

Down to Hades

Luke preserves for us what may have been the Lord’s final words about the city he had made his home. “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” To fail to hear Jesus was to fail to hear God: “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The place the Lord made his earthly home is reserved for the greatest possible judgment.

The Bottom Line

Now, you and I are said to be the “aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved” in this world. That’s quite a pair of sandals to fill, and none of us is remotely up to it. If my life provides even the faintest, tiniest reminder of him — if people I encounter along the way experience even a microscopic fraction of the same reaction he inspired — well, that might be something.

But we are also said to be the fragrance from death to death among those who are perishing. When we live like Christ, people are bound to respond to us almost as negatively as they responded to him.

That means wherever we make our home is just a little bit like Capernaum, in the sense that it stands to either benefit tremendously from our presence or to incur tremendous judgment by ignoring our testimony.

Assuming, of course, that we have a testimony to ignore.

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