12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
We don’t know why Jesus went back to Galilee after John was arrested. We just know how it looks. If Herod Antipas had turned against John and his followers, it was going to be safer to leave the area and go back to Galilee.
It’s not the picture we have of Jesus: that he would worry about his personal safety. But he has not yet begun his march on Jerusalem. He is still just a construction worker, deeply interested in the scriptures and attracted to John’s message. But John has been seized. The Tetrarch didn’t like John’s criticism of his marriage to his brother’s wife. For the tetrarch, John was a threat to social order – which means that John was a threat to Antipas’ rule, his dominion – and thus a threat to Rome’s dominion. Rome hated instability, and it was the Emperor who had given Antipas his title and lands.
So maybe it’s just time for Jesus to move on, to go back home – though he doesn’t go back to Nazareth; he moves to Capernaum.
Whatever reasons might have rattled around in Jesus’ mind, Matthew sees the scriptures in the background. Matthew remembers the ancient prophecy
15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
For Matthew this is the hand of God. Jesus is not retreating. The promise of God is drawing closer to flower. Places long dominated by the Gentile world are about to see the light of God. People long in darkness are about to be graced with light. The shadow of death is about to be dispersed.
There are all kinds of plain and ordinary reasons why our life took this course rather than that one, why we are here rather than there. And you can be content with that rational explanation. But Matthew sees the hand of God working. In so simple a thing as moving to a new town, the divine is at work calling, guiding, breathing his Spirit upon our choices and chances.
Sometimes it feels like we might have made an utterly wrong turn; but Matthew would bid us wonder if God is not working even there to do something within or around us that leads further into grace and life. And perhaps just the act of looking for how God might be present in this is enough for us to find him there.