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Matthew 11:20-24 Woe to Unbelieving Cities


WOE TO UNBELIEVING CITIES

INTRODUCTION

Jesus worked miracles of mercy, preached about the kingdom of God that came through him, and the need for repentance and reconciliation with God to enter it. While doing this ministry all over Galilee and Judaea, he centred it on Capernaum. Despite such a favour, Capernaum and the neighbouring cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida failed to repent. Jesus expressed his distress about their lack of repentance and indifference. He contrasted Chorazin and Bethsaida with the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, saying, “if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Mt 11:21). He predicted that on the day of judgement, these gentile cities will be more tolerable than Chorazin and Bethsaida. Though Capernaum enjoyed more privileges from Jesus than any other city, instead of their exaltation in heaven, they will fall into the netherworld. He considers Sodom in a better position than Capernaum at the last judgement. The more God blesses us, the more we must be productive in Christian virtue.

BIBLE TEXT: MATTHEW 11:20-24

Reproaches to Unrepentant Towns.

(Mt 11:20) Then he began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. (21) “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. (22) But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. (23) And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (24) But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

INTERPRETATION

Background

After presenting the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven, Matthew introduced Jesus’ miracles of mercy in the next two chapters. Then Jesus widened his ministry to more areas by sending his apostles to the neighbouring Jewish settlements. He gave the apostles the “authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Mt 10:1). Jesus cautioned the apostles as regards the acceptance and rejection they would receive in houses and towns.

While Jesus continued his mission, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3) After replying to tell John what they hear from Jesus and the miracles he did, Jesus expressed his dissatisfaction with the poor response of the towns where he himself preached and worked mighty miracles. Though they were after him for physical needs, they did not repent.

Reproaches to Unrepentant Towns

(Mt 11:20) Then he began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.

he began to reproach the towns

Matthew and Luke specified the cities that Jesus reproached. They are Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which are located around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This does not mean that all the residents of these cities were obstinate. However, most of them failed to repent and benefit from the mission of Jesus. His reproach was a warning for the unrepentant and an alert for their repentance.

where most of his mighty deeds had been done

The reason for Jesus’ criticism against the triple cities was the limited outcome despite the abundance of miracles he worked in those places than in other areas. No other prophet had done such mighty deeds as Jesus had. To the Jews who asked for proof of his Messiahship, Jesus replied, “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:37-38). Just as God did mighty miracles for Israel, Jesus used his Father’s power to do wonders during his public ministry. He did most of them in Galilee with his residence at Capernaum.

Jesus expected more repentance from the triple cities because they saw him, witnessed his miracles, and received messages of repentance so as to become part of the new kingdom of God more than any other cities. However, the inhabitants of these cities were interested only in favours and were not cooperating with Jesus for their salvation. The same is the case with the people who pray to God for their personal needs and ignore Him at other times.

since they had not repented

Repentance is a precondition for reconciliation with God. That calls for reviewing one’s actions against covenantal relationship with God and wrongdoings against others, including omissions to do good to those in need. Adam and Eve failed to repent. Instead, they found fault with others for justifying their actions. Adam blamed Eve, and she accused the serpent. Adam said to God, “The woman whom you put here with me–she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it” (Gen 3:12). Eve’s answer was, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it” (Gen 3:13). Besides sexual promiscuity and unnatural vice (Jud 1:7), the people of Sodom “did not give any help to the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49).

Who should repent?

1. The immoral and public sinners
The tax collectors, like Levi, prostitutes, and other sinners who became sick, received forgiveness and favours from Jesus because of their repentance. Jesus forgave the repentant woman caught in adultery, saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore” (Jn 8:11). Jesus promised paradise to the repentant criminal who was crucified alongside him (Lk 23:43). When the people brought a paralytic lying on a stretcher, he healed him and said, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2).

2. The self-righteous
Jesus addressed the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Lk 18:9). The publican went home justified because of his repentance and the Pharisee did not get God’s favour because he exalted himself and despised the tax collector.

3. Selfish people who ignore the less fortunate
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), the rich man failed to help Lazarus for his uplift and hence, his selfishness led him to the eternal fire. The same was the case for his five brothers. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite were negligent in showing compassion to the wounded person (Lk 10:30-37). Jesus presents the verdict of the last judgement to the selfish: “‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Mt 25:45-46).

4. Those who exploit others
Zacchaeus was a public sinner who repented and compensated for the damage he had done to others by promising Jesus, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (Lk 19:8). God commanded the Israelites through Moses: “You shall not exploit your neighbour. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your labourer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD” (Lev 19:13-14).

5. Those who do not forgive others
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus included, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). Then Jesus added, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times’” (Mt 18:21-22). After teaching the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus concluded, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart” (Mt 18:34-35).

6. Violators of God’s commandments
Whoever violates any of God’s ten commandments is committing a sin against God. Such persons need repentance, reparation, and renewal of relationship with God and fellow humans.

(21) “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.”

Woe to you, Chorazin!

Jesus used the expression “Woe to you” in relation to Chorazin and Bethsaida because they did not repent in response to the preaching and mighty deeds of Jesus. Woe is a heart-felt exclamation of anger, misfortune, sadness, and grief related to sin and rejection of divine precepts. Jesus repeated “Woe to you” seven times against the Scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in Matthew 23. It was his virtual judgement of eternal damnation for their then status and his wish for a change of heart on their part for their salvation. Jesus used woe for Judas Iscariot: “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24). Jesus always welcomed the conversion of sinners and never wished for their destruction. However, because of their hardness of heart and unwillingness to be loyal to God and the precepts of Jesus, he reminded them of their upcoming judgement and distress.

In the Old Testament also, woe is associated with sin and destruction (Ezek 16:23). Hosea spoke against sinners: “Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Ruin to them, for they have rebelled against me! Though I wished to redeem them, they spoke lies against me” (Hos 7:13). People, when in despair, also used “woe” for themselves. To wage war against Philistine, the Israelites brought the ark to their camp. Then the Philistines got alarmed and said to themselves, “Woe to us!” (1 Sam 4:7-8).

“Woe” is a precondition for humans because all are born in a sinful state. “Behold, I was born in guilt, in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:7). Only God can forgive sin (Ps 51:3-4). That was why the Jews levelled the charge of blasphemy against Jesus when he forgave sins. “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation” (Rom 3:23-25). Those who reject redemption through Jesus and do not change their sinful lifestyle through repentance are already in condemnation. Their guilt and punishment are more severe because they already heard the message of salvation from Jesus and witnessed his mighty deeds proving his divinity. Whereas “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1-2).

When Jesus used woe as a curse against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, it applied to the sinners living in those cities who were persistent in their sins. There could be righteous people and converts in those cities. During the Old Testament times, we see righteous people in every sinful city, such as Noah during the deluge, Abram in Ur, and Lot in Sodom. Jesus also had disciples from Bethsaida and Capernaum.

Woe to you, Chorazin!

Jesus had centred his public ministry in Capernaum. Chorazin is only 3 kilometres away from Capernaum. During his public ministry, Chorazin was about fifteen acres in size, with around 750 inhabitants. At present, the ruins of a third century synagogue and trees of thorns similar to the thorns used for mockingly crowning Jesus during his trial are present there. That Jesus preached and performed miracles at Chorazin is clear from Jesus’ own statement. The miracles mentioned in Capernaum might also include those that happened in Chorazin because of the proximity of the cities. The nearness of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin made them an “evangelical triangle” where Jesus walked and preached. So, the evangelists might have considered the three cities as one region under Capernaum, the popular city. People from Chorazin might have approached Jesus in Capernaum and other areas on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus did most of his ministry. However, this is the only mention of Chorazin in the gospels.

The city of Chorazin did not flourish in the later period, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus. An earthquake or foreign invasion might have destroyed it. What remains are the ruins of the former city that underwent excavation. However, the salvation of souls is more important than the continued prosperity of a city.

Woe to you, Bethsaida!

Since Bethsaida was in close proximity to Capernaum, Jesus could easily reach there for his public ministry. The literal meaning of Bethsaida is “fishing house,” “hunting house,” or “house of game” because it was a place of hunting and fishing on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee.

The apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip were originally from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44; 12:21). Before Jesus went to Caesarea Philippi, he healed a blind man at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26). The gospels document Jesus’ travel to that place at other times also (Mk 6:45; Lk 9:10). When he went to Bethsaida, “The crowds, meanwhile, learned of this and followed him. He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured” (Lk 9:11). Thus, the residents of Bethsaida had heard Jesus’ preaching and witnessed his mighty deeds in their city.

Tyre and Sidon

Tyre and Sidon are about thirty km apart and are now in Lebanon, north of Galilee. The inhabitants of Sidon must be the descendants of Sidon, who was the firstborn son of Canaan, the grandson of Noah (Gen 10:15). Saida in Arabic means “fishing”. Sidon was the northern border of the ancient Canaanites (Gen 10:19). Tyre is around thirty km south of Sidon and built on a rock island on the east coast of the Mediterranean sea. The name Tyre came from the Semitic word “sr” meaning rock.

Tyre and Sidon were the principal cities of Phoenicia, which lay on the coast of Galilee. Though Joshua had allotted these cities also to the tribe of Asher (Josh 19:28-29) during the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites did not conquer the people there (Judg 1:31-32). “So the Israelites settled among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage, and gave their own daughters to their sons in marriage, and served their gods” (Judg 3:5-6).

Tyre contributed significantly to the construction of David’s palace in Jerusalem by providing supplies and personnel. “Hiram, king of Tyre, sent envoys to David along with cedar wood, and carpenters and masons, who built a house for David” (2 Sam 5:11). “The Sidonians and Tyrians brought great stores of cedar logs to David” (1 Chr 22:4).

The Assyrians attacked the ten tribes of Israel around 740 BC and exiled them to various parts of their empire. The tribe of Asher was also among the lost ten tribes of Israel. Jeremiah (27:3–11) and Ezekiel (26:7-14) had prophesied the surrender of Tyre and Sidon to Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre for 13 years (585–572 BC).

After returning from Babylonian exile, when the Jews started the construction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (521-516 BC) under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they sought help from Tyre and Sidon for construction materials for the Temple. “Then they hired stonecutters and carpenters, and sent food and drink and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians that they might ship cedar trees from the Lebanon to the port of Joppa, as Cyrus, king of Persia, had authorized” (Ezr 3:7).

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon

People from Tyre and Sidon had only rare opportunities to see the mighty works of Jesus and listen to him, which was minimal compared to his ministry in the Jewish areas like Judaea and Galilee. “Hearing of what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon” (Mk 3:8). What attracted the people were his miracles. Jesus went to the gentile area of Tyre and Sidon to be free from the crowd that gathered around him in Galilee (Mk 7:24). While he was there, a Canaanite woman asked of him a favour, viz. to heal her demon possessed daughter. Jesus was amazed at her faith because she addressed Jesus as “Lord, Son of David!” By the end of his discussion with her, Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:21-28) Hence, Jesus knew the receptivity and faith of the gentile and sinful areas better than the conservative and stiff-necked Jewish population. repented in sackcloth and ashes

Sackcloth and ashes, along with fasting, were external signs of repentance, humility, remorse, or grief in Biblical times.

sackcloth

Sackcloth is a coarsely woven cloth made of black goat’s hair or of camel hair. This thick and rough fabric was uncomfortable to wear. It would remind the person who wears it to be humble before God, and to express repentance for sins. People used it also to mourn the death of certain persons. Prophets used sackcloth during their public appearance (Isa 20:2). Because it was a cheap garb, it was also a poor person’s attire.

Examples of the usage of sackcloth in the Old Testament: When Jacob believed that a wild beast killed his son Joseph, “Jacob tore his garments, put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned his son many days” (Gen 37:34). At the death of Abner, “David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, ‘Tear your garments, put on sackcloth, and mourn over Abner’” (2 Sam 3:31). When Solomon’s first child from Bathsheba became seriously sick, “David pleaded with God on behalf of the child. He kept a total fast, and spent the night lying on the ground clothed in sackcloth” (2 Sam 12:16). The Psalmist thanks God: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Ps 30:12). King Hezekiah and his representatives wore sackcloth as a sign of repentance (2 Kgs 19:1-2).

ashes

Ashes, used along with or without sackcloth, are an external sign of death, repentance, desolation, grief, or humility. It reminds the human person of his or her origin (Gen 2:7; 3:19) from dust and the body’s return to the earth. It emphasizes the shortness of worldly life and helps to prepare for eternal life in heaven.

During Old Testament times, people would sprinkle ashes on their heads, mingle them with their food, or sit in them. During Job’s misfortune, he “sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8). When his friends came to meet him, they wept aloud, tore their cloaks, and “threw dust into the air over their heads” (Job 2:12). Job himself later used dust and ashes as a sign of his repentance (Job 42:6).

they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes

A combined use of sackcloth and ashes intensifies the sign of repentance or seeking God’s favour. When Daniel found the sin of his people, he “turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan 9:3). While at the face of a war, Jeremiah pleaded with his people, “Daughter of my people, dress in sackcloth, roll in the ashes. Mourn as for an only child with bitter wailing” (Jer 6:26). In the Book of Esther, when the Persian King Ahasuerus decreed the killing of the Jews, Mordecai “tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city crying out loudly and bitterly” (Esth 4:1). “Likewise in each of the provinces, wherever the king’s decree and law reached, the Jews went into deep mourning, with fasting, weeping, and lament; most of them lay on sackcloth and ashes” (Esth 4:3).

they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes

Jesus exercised his public ministry for over three years in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Within that period, he did not get the expected outcome. This is in contrast to the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh. Though they were pagans and enemies of Israel, they took the message from the God of Israel through Jonah seriously. Instead of even waiting forty days, they repented immediately. “The people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh: ‘By decree of the king and his nobles, no man or beast, no cattle or sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast alike must be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; they all must turn from their evil way and from the violence of their hands’” (Jon 3:5-8). Jesus, who is greater than Jonah (Mt 12:41) could have made such an outcome at Tyre and Sidon possible, provided he was able to do such service as he did in Chorazin.

Jesus had a good reception from the gentiles, the publicans, the sinners, and the ordinary people. He also had Jewish disciples. Even members of the Sanhedrin, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, became his secret followers. They acknowledged him as the messiah.

(22) But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you.

But I tell you

By using “I tell you,” Jesus assured the conformity of his statement.

it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you

There will be tolerance for the righteous people of Chorazin on the day of judgement when Jesus will return from heaven. However, that will be less compared to the people from Tyre and Sidon. There will be more punishment for the sinners in Chorazin than those of Tyre and Sidon. The reason is that they did not get as much opportunity as the people in Chorazin to listen to Jesus and witness his miracles. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48). Chorazin got more from Jesus and so he expects more from them.

After the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he sent the apostles all over the world, regardless of Jewish or Gentile territory. Hence, he was still expecting results from the people in Chorazin and the pagan areas like Tyre and Sidon. So, the woe Jesus expressed was a warning for the people in Chorazin to reconsider their unrepentant attitude.

the day of judgement

Though the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, Jesus confirmed a final judgement for all the people at his second coming. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-32) followed by the judgement. The gentile converts will have privileged positions compared to the unrepentant Jews at the last judgement. “At the judgement, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here” (Mt 12:41).

(23) And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

And as for you, Capernaum

Capernaum is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Though a small village, Capernaum was part of Galilee, where most Jews lived. It had favourable factors like water for fishing, fertile land for agriculture, and a hub of international trade routes, especially connecting Egypt and Damascus by the ancient highway “Via Maris”. Since Capernaum had roads that led to faraway cities, Jesus could meet people of different nationalities, religions, and cultures. The trade routes helped Jesus to spread his message and his fame to all the neighbouring regions. Jesus could also travel easily from Capernaum to neighbouring cities around the Sea of Galilee by walking on the seashore or travelling by boat.

Capernaum has another name, “The town of Jesus”, because he ministered in that village more than anywhere else. Though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, when he preached there, his own people rejected him and even attempted to throw him down from a hill (Lk 4:28-30). He escaped that assassination attempt and moved to Capernaum to make it his base for preaching and serving the disadvantaged (Mt 4:13).

Capernaum received more favours from Jesus than any other city. Out of his twelve apostles, Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew had residences in Capernaum. Jesus often stayed at Peter’s house in Capernaum. He did most of his preaching in that city. His famous and ever influential Sermon on the Mount happened in Capernaum. “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their Scribes” (Mt 7:28-29).

The documented miracles of Jesus at Capernaum are:
1. Jesus healed a royal official’s son at Capernaum from a distance in Cana. With that, the official and his household believed in Jesus (Jn 4:46-54).
2. Jesus helped his future disciples with a miraculous catch of fish at the Sea of Galilee (Lk 5:1-11).
3. He healed a leper after the sermon on the mountain (Mt 8:1-4).
4. He healed a centurion’s servant here (Mt 8:5-13).
5. Jesus healed a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum on a Sabbath. “All were amazed and asked one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee” (Mk 1:27-28).
6. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law at his house in Capernaum (Mt 8:14-15).
7. He healed many others on the same day. “When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick” (Mt 8:16).
8. Jesus healed a paralytic whom four people lowered down from the roof into a crowded room where he was preaching (Mk 2:1-12). “They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (v 12).
9. Jesus healed a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years while he was going to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter (Mk 5:25-34).
10. He raised Jairus’ daughter from her deathbed (Lk 8:40-56).
11. Jesus healed two blind men who, after their healing, “went out and spread word of him through all that land” (Mt 9:27-31).
12. He healed a mute demoniac. “The crowds were amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’” (Mt 9:32-34).
13. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on a Sabbath (Mt 12:9-13).
14. He paid temple tax by asking Peter, “Go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you” (Mt 17:24-27).

The miracles of Jesus in Capernaum were well known in other areas. The people in Nazareth demanded of Jesus, “Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum” (Lk 4:23). Despite all these miracles and communication from Jesus, the Jewish leaders in Capernaum found fault with him for violating the Sabbath, accused him of blasphemy, and blamed him for “casting out demons with the help of Beelzebul.” Though the public in Capernaum knew Jesus and his mighty deeds, the Jewish leaders misguided the people against him.

The cities that Jesus blamed for unbelief later declined from their prosperity. They are even now ruins, archeological remains, and tourist sites. Tiberias, another city on the lakeshore of Galilee, which was not included in this “woe” statement, is now well advanced than the other three.

Will you be exalted to heaven?

Exaltation is promoting or honouring someone in a lofty position. For a Christian, God offers reward and honour in heaven according to his or her loyalty to God.

1. Exaltation of Jesus
Paul details the exaltation of Jesus in heaven. God has “worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Eph 1:20-23). According to Paul, God exalted Jesus because of his obedience and humility. Paul advised Philippians to follow the same for their exaltation in heaven. “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11). The Catholic Church honours such exemplary Christians as saints.

2. Holy men of the Old Testament
The Bible gives examples of people exalted in heaven. “The whole lifetime of Enoch was three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him” (Gen 5:23-24). Jesus said to the crowd, “you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:28). Like Enoch, God took Elijah without tasting death. While he along with his disciple Elisha “walked on still conversing, a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kgs 2:11). During the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain on the two sides of Jesus (Mt 17:1-8).

3. Exaltation of the Apostles
Peter asked Jesus: “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus replied: “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:27-29).

4. Honour in heaven for those who continue the mission of Jesus
During the sermon on the mountain, Jesus promised heaven for the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), the meek (Mt 5:5), the clean of heart (Mt 5:8), and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Mt 5:10). He added, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). Towards the end of Paul’s life, he wrote: “For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2 Tim 4:6-8). When the Jewish leaders martyred Stephen, “he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). Thus, Stephen felt Jesus welcoming him to heaven.

5. Honour for those who do the will of the Father
Jesus promised: “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). Thus, Jesus will consider them as members of his family.

6. Heavenly dwelling for the disciples
Jesus promised heavenly residence for his disciples. “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:1-3).

7. Heavenly reward according to one’s actions.
Jesus promised: “The Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27). “Each will receive wages in proportion to his labour. For we are God’s co-workers” (1 Cor 3:8-9). “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6). Peter told the presbyters: “When the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4). According to Daniel, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace. But those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendour of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Dan 12:2-3).

Will you be exalted to heaven?

Jesus exalted Capernaum on the earth during his public ministry by:
1. Making it his primary hub for his ministry.
2. He preached more in Capernaum than in other areas of Galilee.
3. Jesus performed a majority of his miracles there.
4. People of other areas considered Capernaum with high esteem because of the prolonged presence of Jesus there.
5. Capernaum was financially and materially prosperous.
6. The city was known as the “Town of Jesus”.
7. Jesus chose his many disciples and apostles from Capernaum.

Because of the privileged position Capernaum enjoyed during the ministry of Jesus, the public might have assumed that God would exalt the city in heaven as well. However, the response of the inhabitants was negative. “It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:16-19). Hence, the outcome of the mission of Jesus in Capernaum was negative because of the people veering in the opposite direction. Thus, instead of a high rank in heaven, they made themselves worthy of a downfall into the netherworld.

You will go down to the netherworld

Jesus singled out Capernaum from Chorazin and Bethsaida to show the superior privilege the city had enjoyed from Jesus’ presence and ministry. They could see the Messiah and witness his preaching and mighty deeds more than any other people. Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (Lk 10:23-24). The words of Jesus, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” were applicable to the people in Capernaum. It was only about them that Jesus said, “You will go down to the netherworld.”

The words of Jesus on Capernaum’s downfall into the netherworld are an imitation of Isaiah’s address to the Babylonian king. The prophet said, “In your heart you said: ‘I will scale the heavens; above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, on the heights of Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!” No! Down to Sheol you will be brought to the depths of the pit!’” (Isa 14:13-15) Jesus warned a comparable situation would happen to Capernaum for their pride, arrogance, and rejection of the Messiah.

You will go down to the netherworld

The netherworld is the world of the dead below the surface of the earth (Num 16:30) or at the bottom of the mountains (Jon 2:7). It is a place of torment where the rich man ended after his death as cited in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:22-23). It is Sheol in Hebrew and is a subterranean underworld of darkness where the souls of the dead remain after their separation from the body.

Going down the netherworld implies the downfall of the city like other sinful cities of the past and also the destruction of sinners in the afterlife. The prophecy of the downfall of Capernaum along with Chorazin and Bethsaida happened when the Jews revolted against the Romans in 70 AD. The decline started in these cities of Galilee, along with the downfall of Jerusalem in Judaea.

Sodom

Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the five ancient “cities of the Plain” (Gen 13:12; 19:29) that went into destruction during the time of Abram. The other cities were Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela or Zoar (Gen 14:2). God destroyed Sodom because “the inhabitants of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Gen 13:13). That the cities of the Plain were fertile areas is clear from the selection of Lot when he and Abram parted for peace among their people. “Lot looked about and saw how abundantly watered the whole Jordan Plain was as far as Zoar, like the LORD’s own garden, or like Egypt. This was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, therefore, chose for himself the whole Jordan Plain and set out eastward. Thus they separated from each other” (Gen 13:10-11). Instead of thanking God and keeping a good relationship with Him, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah ignored God and indulged in serious sins. There were no other righteous people in the land.

God did not want to destroy the innocent. So, He saved Lot and his family from the destruction. Afterwards, “The LORD rained down sulfur upon Sodom and Gomorrah, fire from the LORD out of heaven. He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain, together with the inhabitants of the cities and the produce of the soil” (Gen 19:24-25). Through Ezekiel, God clarified for the Israelites why he destroyed Sodom. “Now look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in prosperity. They did not give any help to the poor and needy. Instead, they became arrogant and committed abominations before me; then, as you have seen, I removed them” (Ezek 16:49-50). According to Jude, “Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practised unnatural vice” (Jud 1:7).

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,

Though God sent two angels to Sodom before its destruction, the people attempted for sexual relations with them without finding out their whereabouts. The attempt to attack the divine guests led to the destruction of Sodom with no opportunity for repentance for the sinners and forgiveness from God (Gen 19:4-11). The people at Capernaum welcomed Jesus and made use of his divine power for their physical needs. However, they ignored his message for repentance and the renewal of their lives. Jesus said that if he had done such mighty deeds in Sodom, they might have repented and saved themselves from the destruction of their souls, their potential generations, and the fertility of their land.

(24) “But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.”

By using “I tell you,” Jesus affirmed the certainty of the better position of Sodom’s sinners on the Last Judgement day than those who rejected him at Capernaum. The guilt of the latter is more terrible than the people who faced destruction in Sodom. Unlike those in Capernaum, the Sodomites had no opportunity to meet the Messiah and witness his miracles.

Thus, Jesus contrasted the most privileged Jewish city of Capernaum with the highly sinful city of Sodom. Similarly, he contrasted Chorazin and Bethsaida with the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon. These imply that the sinners and gentiles will face judgement at the second coming of Christ along with the others. Those who have received the gospel of Jesus and favours from him have more responsibility to be productive than those who had no access to them. Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48).

MESSAGE

1. The inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were receptive to Jesus for their physical needs. However, they ignored their spiritual growth and did not care to offer their heart to him. When we go through tough times, we approach God for favours. However, when times are good, we do tend to forget God. Jesus expects us to be always faithful to God.

2. Jesus expressed his consideration for the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon at the Last Judgement. Are we considerate of nonChristians?

3. Though God destroyed Sodom, Jesus expressed his consideration for them at the Last Judgement because they did not get from him the message of repentance that Capernaum received. Jesus hated sin and cared for the sinner. Let us also avoid sin and help the sinners for their repentance and reconciliation.

4. It is unfortunate that people who received the sacraments and blessings from God have left the Church like the people in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus might say “woe” to such people. Let us pray that they may recover the grace of salvation.

5. Jesus revealed different degrees of torment or reward in hell or heaven. Let us run our spiritual race for the best place in heaven.

6. Jesus did his part for us through our parents, catechists, teachers, pastors, and the Church. It is our choice to cooperate with it or decline to do so. Our eternal reward or punishment will be based on the choices we make.

7. Jesus is the only way to the Father. If we take up our cross and follow him, he will send his angels at the time of death to lead us to him as he did at the death of Lazarus in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. Otherwise, like the Rich man, we will end up in the netherworld of eternal torment (Lk 16:1931).

8. Dismas, one of the two crucified with Jesus, gained paradise when he sought the mercy of Jesus. Through the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus also taught us the importance of repentance to receive unconditional forgiveness from the benevolent Father. Like Dismas and the prodigal son, let us seek the forgiveness of our sins from Jesus.


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