Resurrection in the margins
Why does the risen Christ insist on leading his followers back to Galilee? Andrew Mayes investigates
Mark’s Gospel has the most enigmatic ending – the risen Christ does not appear in the Gospel at all. Instead, coming to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus and pay their last respects, Mary Magdalene and her companions are surprised by the sight of a young man dressed in white. He has an unexpected message: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” He goes on: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
Jesus will not be found in Jerusalem, the religious capital, the centre of the religious establishment, where the divine presence was expected to be located. Rather, the risen Christ is to be discovered in remote Galilee, the place on the periphery, the margins – “There you will see him.” This is precisely what Jesus had said himself: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
In Matthew’s Gospel there is a double emphasis on this point – the words of the angel are repeated, then Jesus appears, but only for a fleeting moment. He has one message: “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
So what is the significance of Jesus’ longing to reveal himself, not at the centre of things, but on the margins? Galilee is a liminal place and Christ waits to meet us in such places. Matthew’s Gospel quoted Isaiah 9:1–2 at the very start of this account of the ministry, to show the context chosen by Jesus: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” On what grounds does Galilee acquire this designation “Galilee of the Gentiles”? The Galilee region was much more mixed in terms of Jewish and Gentile populations than other regions of the land. A semi-autonomous frontier region, it was exposed to the nearby foreign countries and ethnicities. Sean Freyne, in a study of the marginality of Galilee, calls it “a symbol of the periphery becoming the new non-localised centre of divine presence”. It maintained both a physical distance from the Temple on Zion and an ideological distance, prepared to make a critique of the self-serving Jerusalem clerical elite and their practices. It found itself on the edges. Galileans were mocked for their local accent – recall the girl’s recognition of Peter’s rough Aramaic tongue (Mark 14:70) – they were jeered: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asks Nathaniel (John 1:46). “Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee,” (John 7:52). It has been said:
Galileans… were oppressed, dehumanised and looked down upon. Galileans were marginalised by foreign invaders and also by the Jerusalem Temple-state.*…
This is an extract from the April 2014 edition of Reform.