In the gospel of Matthew we read the story of Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. When the religious clerics were extremely displeased when they saw this “violation” of the Sabbath. Storming out of the synagogue they met with the Herodians on how they could destroy this man. Then, as I translate in Jesus in His Own Words, “Aware of their plot to kill me, I withdrew with my disciples to the shores of Lake Galilee.” The question for those who model their life after Jesus is, “If someday my life is actually threatened for what I believe, should I remain true to my convictions or take cover?” On the basis of what Jesus did in this situation it would seem that the martyrs of the early church may have been foolish for having chosen the lions rather than recant.
We know, of course, that Jesus was anything but a coward. When opposed by the clerics in Jerusalem who were in cahoots with Rome he remained true all the way to the cross. We know from scripture that had he needed help his Father could have dispatched “more than twelve legions of angels” for his protection (Matt 26:53). We can certainly rule out timidity or cowardice as the motivating factor for his retreat to the lake.
We do not know exactly why he withdrew from danger on this occasion but it would seem that he merely wanted to continue this stage of his ministry and that would have been less likely had he exposed himself needlessly to danger. In time his adversaries did carry out their villainous plan but in the meantime the crowds needed to hear the message of the kingdom and the sick to be healed. I see Jesus as a thoughtful person who went about his mission in a rather quiet and humble way. Tired from the day’s journey he sat by the well and let his disciples go for food (John 4). Even the day before he was crucified he gathered with the Twelve for a quiet meal. “Let not your heart be troubled” characterized his life. So, here in our verse when he was threatened by angry clerics, Jesus simply decided that it would be better for him to move away from such a menacing environment and go where he would be more free to carry out the work his father had assigned.