Woe To You

Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds had been done,
since they had not repented.
“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.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
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.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
(Matthew 11:20-24)

Scripture Study

11:21 Chorazin … Bethsaida: Two cities north of the Sea of Galilee. Both are within five miles of Jesus’ home in Capernaum, and both are unresponsive to his ministry. Privileged by Jesus’ presence and works, they bear greater guilt for rejecting him than the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, north of Palestine on the coast of Phoenicia (cf. Lk 12:48).

11:23 Capernaum: Jesus’ home during his Galilean ministry (4:13). Like his childhood home of Nazareth, this city too rejects Jesus and his works (13:53–58; Lk 4:16–30). ● Jesus’ rebuke upon the city recalls God’s judgment on the king of Babylon in Is 14:13–15. ● Morally: Capernaum signifies the soul that receives Christ but falls into mortal sin. Because Christ dwelt there, the fallen-away and prideful soul is subject to harsher judgment (2 Pet 2:20–22; CCC 678). Sodom: The city destroyed by God in Gen 19:24–25. It was a proverbial OT example of sexual sin and inhospitality that called down God’s wrath (Is 1:9; Jer 23:14; Ezek 16:44–46; Amos 4:11).

Scripture Reflection

Some of us read passages like these and are not greatly affected by them. The situation is remote, the language of prophetic judgment is foreign, and there seems to be little that fits our contemporary Christian experience. Unfortunately, this is a serious miscalculation on our part. These verses are directly relevant to the lives of God’s people today.

The lesson to be learned is simple: with great privilege comes great responsibility. The Galilean cities denounced by Jesus were blasted with unusually harsh words because they were among the precious few to see and hear and touch the Messiah in person. They had incentives to believe in Jesus that most will never have. As a result, the culpability of these towns for impenitence could hardly be greater.

What about us? Jesus has entrusted the Church with the fullness of Christian truth and grace. Christians of all confessions hold that salvation in Christ is ours for the taking and that the Bible is the living Word of God. Have we responded to these privileges with faith and zeal proportionate to their greatness? If we are honest with ourselves, we will surely find areas in our lives that are not fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus. Yet if Christ is truly present among us—in his Word, in his Eucharist, and in his Church—then we are in a situation much like that of ancient Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum as they witnessed his ministry.

Here is a case where applying Scripture to our lives means learning from the mistakes of others. Will we, unlike the towns of Galilee, take advantage of the time that is ours to repent of our sinful ways and to pursue holiness? Or will we procrastinate until the window of opportunity closes for good? To us much has been given, and so much will be required.

– Curtis Mitch

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.