Print Version January 7th, 2005
To tell you the truth I’ll be glad when Christmastide is over and we can have 12 month’s break from John’s letters. There’s good stuff, I know—God is Love, for example—but every year they strike me as just a touch too cult-ish for my taste: a little sectarian; a lot defensive. Nearly every reading has been obsessed with demarcation: who’s in and who’s out; who belongs and who doesn’t; who’s good and who’s bad. And those are the only choices John offers: you are either children of God or children of Satan.
Yet here we are in Epiphany: celebrating how God is made known to the whole world, whether they are in or out, shepherd or scientist, asylum-seeker or king.
Matthew, in the gospel, is still in Epiphany mood. Jesus shows himself today, begins to preach his message, his good news: ‘repent: the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’. There’s a lot you could say about what that might mean but what struck my eye today is not what but where. Because the where is an epiphany too.
Jesus begins his preaching in the Galilee. Matthew seems unsure whether that’s by choice, or to fulfil the prophecy, or for fear of meeting the same fate as the Baptist, or just to go home. But here he is. Why Galilee?
‘Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali! Way of the sea on the far side of the Jordan. Galilee of the Gentiles.’
The Galilee had a reputation. Not quite Jewish enough for the Judeans. Galilee of the Gentiles: too mixed up with foreigners and their trade; haunted by too many memories of pagan rites on hill top and grove; too thick an accent too.
On the other hand, if you were Roman, far too Jewish, proudly and stubbornly Jewish: home of rebellion and banditry; source of an endless stream of insurgents and rabble-rousing messiahs.
This is where Jesus chose to manifest himself, to make his home. In a place neither one thing nor the other. Neither in nor out. Too much a Gentile, too much a Jew and never really either.
That choice tells us a lot about Jesus and a lot about God. An epiphany: God likes to blur the boundaries, to mix things up and see what happens.
We each have our own Galilees in the contested territory of our own hearts. We all live lives straddling identities: parent and child; citizen and churchgoer; scientist and sister, the one who prays and the one who pays the bills. Sometimes we ache for integrity, for singleness of mind, to be just one thing. Sometimes we draw the lines keenly: this bit of me is in and this bit is out; God can bear this bit but hates the rest.
But the action—the epiphany—is always elsewhere, where we are both/and rather than either/or, where Jesus walks around the Galilee of our lives with Good News in his touch.