Recently, Bekah and I have been reading through the Gospel of Matthew in our devotional times. One night, as I was reading Matthew 4:23-25, the most unusual word caught my attention: “Syria.”
Jesus is going through Galilee, proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom and healing the sick, and we are told that his fame spread throughout Syria. Why Syria? Isn’t that an odd place name to find here?
I went to my trusty map and found something like this. It’s a little hard to see, but the green is Syria and the orange is Galilee. So, as I had thought, news was spreading in what would be considered the wrong direction, to the north of the “Jewish” region.
Earlier I read that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, the land of the backwoods nobodies. It was among the marginalized and oppressed of the Jewish people that Jesus began proclaiming the Kingdom. Then, with his ministry beginning there, the news spreads among outsiders in Syria.
Jerusalem and Judea are mentioned a little later in this passage when we are told that people came from all around the be healed. It is still striking, however, that even in this list the Decapolis and Galilee are mentioned as well as the “region across from the Jordan.” The Decapolis, or the ten cities, were not Jewish places, Galilee was looked down upon by the “inside” crowd, and “across from the Jordan” was another way of saying “not from around here.”
This idea of being an outisder seems to be a theme in the beginning of Matthew, at least as I see it. Jesus is born to unwed parents (in the point of view of those around them), is sought out by strange astrologers from the East (not his own people), is hunted, as a child, by the political power of his day, lives as an immigrant in Egypt, and then goes to live and minister in the region of Galilee.
It seems to me that the ministry of Jesus began with and continued to draw the outsiders, the losers, the nobodies. Shouldn’t, then, the ministry of the church reflect this fact? Shouldn’t we be taking the good news to everyone that society deems undeserving: the poor, the immigrants, the mentally ill, the homeless? If this is where Jesus began, don’t you think we should go and do likewise?