Galilee of the Gentiles
Read: Matthew 28:7; Mark 16:7
For many years now, I have found myself meditating on the words of God’s messengers to the women disciples at the empty tomb: “He has gone before you into Galilee.” Seemingly simple words, but there is a world of meaning in them.
Isaiah Chapter 9 refers to “Galilee of the Gentiles,” from which a king would come, who would cause the “people who walked in darkness” to “see a great light.” Scholars say the people of that time would likely have thought of the righteous King Josiah, who restored the faith of the nation, but who died in battle at Megiddo (also known as Armageddon).
Galilee was a place, both in Isaiah’s time and in the time of Jesus’ ministry, where the Jewish people were a minority—the Gentiles (or the nations) predominated. It was an especially fertile land and a crossroads of international travel. Not too many years ago, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a large city in Galilee from the time of Jesus’ life and ministry. From that, many have begun to think that Jesus and his neighbors spoke several languages—at least Aramaic and Greek, and possibly more.
So, when the Risen Christ “has gone before you into Galilee,” all of the above could be part of the meaning. I used to think it simply meant that the disciples were to go “to all the nations” and be witnesses to the Good News. Now I believe it also means that the Risen Christ is everywhere “the people” are. To me, it means that no matter where I go, Christ will meet me there, having gone before me.
Recently, I shared this with the congregation at Wattana Church here in Bangkok. In this very place, we are “Galilee of the Gentiles,” a fertile and productive land, as the ancient Thai song has it: “in the water there is fish, in the fields there is rice.” We, especially Bangkok, are a crossroads for the world—at least when COVID-19 has not shut down so much travel, and a coup next door has not suddenly shut down some of our trade.
Multiple languages are spoken here. The front-desk guard in my apartment building, Mr. Free (his English nickname), is from southern Thailand. He speaks the language of his province, the standard Central Thai he learned in school, Malay (the language of our southern neighbor), and he is trying very hard to learn English. Our Pastoral Assistant for English-Language ministries, Mr. Motan Konyak, speaks his own Naga dialect from the hills of northeast India, as well as English, Hindi, and Thai. Some of our building-and-grounds church workers are Christians from the Karen tribe in Burma or northern Thailand. They speak their own Karen dialects, Burmese, Northern Thai, Central Thai, and a few words of English. Our church Board Chair speaks the Chinese dialect of his immigrant parents (Teochew), Thai, and fluent English. My paltry two languages just can’t compete.
We live in Galilee of the Gentiles, and the Risen Christ was here before any of us arrived. And just as Jesus taught his disciples to “fish for people,” Christians here are conscious of striving to do the same.
Thailand has been under very strict regulations since last March. Things eased up some from August through November, but then there was an outbreak in December at Thailand’s largest wholesale fish market in Samut Sakhorn, the province just west of Bangkok. Christmas and New Year celebrations were much subdued because of that, and Christian churches went back online. Yes, many Thai people celebrate Christmas according to the world of retail. Christmas trees and major shopping everywhere. No Jesus, though. At least, not in the larger culture.
As I write this, at the beginning of February, the government has announced an easing of restrictions again. We will again worship in person beginning this month (no more than 100 people at a time indoors), and we will even observe Holy Communion with little sealed pillboxes for the wafers and little vials with screw tops for the cup. And yes, the plan is to sterilize these items and re-use them.
Christians here are very alert to any news from the U.S.A., just as people in almost every nation. We pray for you constantly.
Anne Gregory serves with the Church of Christ in Thailand. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.