When Jesus Walked the Earth: The Model Practicum

I often tell my New Testament Survey classes that John gives us Jesus as he relates to us, while the first three gospels give us as much of Jesus as he related to them, the lost sheep of Israel. John tells us what we need to know about Jesus, but Matthew tells us that Jesus ministry while he was on earth was not focused on everyone.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on non-Jews while he was on earth, that he did not primarily minister to Gentiles while he was on earth. Matthew tells us not only that Jesus did not focus on all Israel while he was on earth, that he ministered primarily to the lost sheep of Israel. But Matthew reveals that Jesus' earthly minstry focused on the peasant population of Galilee while he was on earth.

Jesus did not primarily minister to the wealthy, although there were a few. Jesus did not primarily minister to Samaritans or the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Jesus did not primarily even minister to those in Nazareth. Jesus ministry focused mostly on a few villages on the north side of the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin.

I can see the Headline now: the day God came to Chorazin. Where? I bet a lot of people even in Jerusalem had never even heard of the place. These were villages of 300-1000 in backwater Galilee--nowhere, in other words. The idea that God focused His ministry here is almost unfathomable, from a strategic planning perspective. What was He thinking?

As I have reflected on these things, I have become attracted to the idea that in his three years of ministry, Jesus was showing us one way that we are to do ministry. College and seminary minstry students often have to do something called a "practicum." They take what they've learned in the classroom and they go do it. The places they do them are more varied than they are. I did some in local churches; I did one in a nursing home. Some do them in conjunction with hospitals or prisons.

After my trip to Israel, I have increasingly come to think of Jesus' earthly ministry as a brief example of how ministry is done, a model practicum that we can follow.

What did Jesus do for his practicum?

1. He started with where he was. And where he was wasn't anywhere special.
2. But every individual is special to God. And Jesus' ministered to the "nobodies" of Galilee as if they were the most important people in the history of the world.
3. Jesus ministered to their needs on every level.

He dealt with their physical needs by healing them.

He dealt with their spiritual needs by freeing them from demonic oppression and giving them an eternal hope.

He dealt with their economic needs when they were oppressed by the taxation of Herod Antipas, the one who beheaded John the Baptist. In the time of Jesus, this Herod only had control of Galilee and Perea--not prosperous places to raise money for his massive building projects in Sepphoris and Tiberias.

These were farming villages who usually just produced enough for them to survive--they didn't usually even produce enough extra to trade for other things. They mostly did it all themselves for themselves. Times must have been tough when this ruler not only notices them, but tries to squeeze everything he can get from them.

Jesus' earthly ministry in Galilee shows us what ministry should look like. The place and the people change: Marion, Lapel, Plevna, New York City. But the ministry is always to real people and real situations, and everyone counts.