The Beginning of the Galilean Campaign – Jesus Begins to Preach:
‘“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’ (v. 12-17)
Verses 15-16: We read another Messianic prophecy from Isaiah. Jesus spent most of his public ministry “in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali” (v.13), which is north and west of the Sea of Galilee.
Unlike the Gospel of John, Matthew does not identify Jesus as the light of the world. Nonetheless, the prophecy from Isaiah makes clear that Jesus’ return to Galilee will be the occasion for those who sit in darkness to see “a great light” (Matthew 4:16-17). No doubt Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing is the basis for that light.
Verse 17: Repent! Jesus began his public ministry with the same message as that of John the Baptist (3:2). The people must repent because God’s reign was drawing near in the person of Jesus.
The Calling of the First Disciples – Jesus calls people as they are, from where they are, being who they are: As Jesus walks beside the water, the soon-to-be-disciples are engaged in their everyday jobs: earning a living for themselves and their families by fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They are probably at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder; their work is dirty and physically challenging, and it demands their attention from sunup to sundown.
Jesus does not seem to be bothered by their grimy fingernails, their wet and dirty clothing, not even by their low social status or lack of political power. The One with the kingly pedigree (see the birth narrative) does not demand that they shower up before joining his mission, nor does he ask questions about their education, their abilities, nor their availability for an extended time away from home.
To Simon and Andrew, Jesus promises to expand their skills: these men who cast nets for fish will one day catch people, instead. As for the sons of Zebedee, James and John, they receive only a call: no hints about what follows, no details about the mission, no promises of success. Remarkably, all four of these people, just as they are, follow after this stranger who interrupts their daily routine. All that is asked of them at this point is simply that they follow: as they are, from where they are, being who they are. As is true for the followers of Jesus who come after them, the meaning of their choice will unfold only over time.
Verse 23: Teaching…Preaching…Healing – This is the beginning of Jesus’ threefold ministry. The synagogues provided a place for him to teach on the Sabbath. During the week, he preached to larger crowds in the open air.