“He Withdrew”

Holy Cross Day

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 4:12-17

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —
16 the 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.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”


In today’s gospel reading, Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. Does Jesus go and seek John’s release? No. He departs, or, according to some translations, withdraws. Painful as it no doubt was for Jesus, who deeply loved and respected John, he did not come to save this one man from his death — at least, not this death, the death of his martyrdom. Jesus came to save the human race from the power of death itself.

In a reading for today’s Feast of the Holy Cross, St. Peter writes that, after his death on the cross, Jesus went down to hell to save those who had perished in the Flood. In Jesus, God’s mercy is extended beyond the salvation of the few. Only eight people were saved in the ark, but in the vessel that is Jesus’ living body, all have a place in salvation through God’s mercy. When John is arrested, Jesus does not stage an immediate rescue of his kinsman, but withdraws out to the land of the Gentiles — those who up to this point had had no place in God’s chosen people — and there begins his earthly ministry.

The choice to withdraw can be a fraught one. The same action can be an act of cowardice in one situation, and an act of courageous obedience in another. In this case, John chose not to withdraw and was arrested and executed. Jesus chose to withdraw so that he might fulfill the will of the Father. Different choices, but both were courageous and obedient acts. At times in our own lives, we may encounter a choice to withdraw or move forward. As we discern, we should consider: Does one of these choices maximize the number of souls who may be shepherded through the waters, welcomed to take up residence in the vessel that will carry them safely from this world into the next? Does one of these choices minimize that number?

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, N.J.
The Diocese in Europe (Church of England)


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