When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. [Mt 4:12-23]
Jesus’ ministry in Galilee now begins. In word and deed, he proclaims that the Kingdom of God has arrived. He starts by calling disciples and gathering to himself the new people of God (4:12-25). Then, as supreme teacher, lawgiver and prophet, he promulgates the new Law of the Kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29). His teaching is vouched for by “the works of the Messiah,” the miracles he performs (8:1 – 9:38).
The sending out of the apostles and the deeds and words of Jesus show that he is more than a teacher: he is the Messiah of Israel. The religious leaders of the Chosen People (11:16 – 12:45) obstinately reject him, but the signs are so evident (14:13 – 15:39) that St Peter acknowledges Jesus for what he truly is – the Messiah, the Son of God (16:13-20)
Jesus now makes Capernaum the base of his activity (v. 13). This city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee epitomized the whole region: rich in natural resources and situated at the center of trade routes, it had a mixed population, of which perhaps a third were Jewish.
The episode concerning the centurion suggests that people of different races and cultures lived in amity here. The region (a number of areas are mentioned in verse 15) was conquered by the Assyrians in the time of Isaiah, in 734 BC; it was laid waste and its 0people were ill-treated.
Some of its Israelite population were deported, and sizeable numbers of foreigners were planted as colonists. That is why in this quotation from Isaiah 9 it is referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” This was the region (the evangelist underlines) that was the first to receive the light of salvation and hear the preaching of the Messiah – in fulfillment of the prophecies.
With the Kingdom of heaven so close at hand (cf. the note on 3:1-120, Jesus’ preaching is an urgent call to repentance (see v. 17). For “Repent” many translations give “Be converted or “Do penance.” “[Penance] means the inmost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom. But penance also means changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart, and in this sense doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance it is one’s whole existence that becomes penitential, that is to say, directed toward a continuous striving for what is better. But doing penance is something authentic and effective only if it is translated into deeds and acts of penance. In this sense penance means […] the concrete daily effort of a person, supported by God’s grace, to lose his or her own life for Christ as the only means of gaining it; an effort to put off the old man and put on the new; an effort to overcome in oneself what is of the flesh in order that what is spiritual may prevail; a continual effort to rise from the things of here below to the things of above, where Christ is” (John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 4).