This Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word gives us a helpful glimpse of Israelite geography and a small lesson in the Kingdom of Israel’s history. It’s not complicated and it’s incredibly enlightening!
Isaiah, in this Sunday’s First Reading, as well as St Matthew in our Gospel, recalls the ironic fall of the everlasting Kingdom that God had promised to David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13). They both speak of the fall of Naphtali and Zebulun. These were two of the twelve tribes that formed the nation/Kingdom of Israel and they both dwelt in the north.
In 800BC, the part of the Kingdom of Israel where the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun dwelt was attacked by the Assyrians (from Assyria), captured by them, and they were shipped off out of Israel to a different land (see 2 Kings 15:29). It was the first part of the Kingdom to fall before the rest of it did. The Kingdom was completely wiped out in the sixth century BC, when Jerusalem, the Kingdom’s capital, was taken by Babylon along with the rest of the tribes of Israel (see 2 Kings 24:14).
In this Sunday’s First Reading, the prophet Isaiah prophesies that Naphtali and Zebulun, the first to see destruction, will be the first to see salvation: “In days past the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in days to come (in the time of Jesus) He will confer glory on the Way of the Sea on the far side of Jordan, province (“Galilee” is another way to translate this word) of the nations.”
This Sunday’s Gospel shows Jesus, in Galilee, beginning his ministry and announcing the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel — the Kingdom of God. Galilee, where Jesus first began His ministry, is the exact place that Isaiah said would be the first to see salvation! Naphtali and Zebulun dwelt in what would be Galilee in Jesus’ day.
Jesus is announcing, however, the restoration of the true Kingdom of God. Not just the nation of Israel, which was a foreshadowing of the true Kingdom, but the Kingdom that includes all the nations, symbolised by “province/Galilee of the nations” in Isaiah.
In the same Gospel (if your priest or deacon chooses to read the longer option), Jesus calls His first Apostles by the Sea of Galilee and tells them that He will make them “fishers of men.” Fishers of men they became indeed and two pairs of men, together with the rest of the twelve (minus Judas) preached the Gospel to all nations — “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
These Apostles were called to preach the Gospel of the Lord, as St Paul says in our Second Reading, to unite all people under Christ. St Paul, in our Second Reading, is dealing with the divisions that were later occurring in the Church at Corinth and is vehemently opposing the idea that the Church, or Christ, is divided in any way. We are all part of the world-wide Kingdom of God; Jesus’ very body — the Catholic Church.
By the Apostles’ preaching and evangelisation, Isaiah’s prophecy is further realised: the world that walked in darkness “has seen a great light!”
Because of this light, the light that we need to still bring to those around us that walk in darkness, we are able to sing the words of this Sunday’s Psalm with joyful anticipation: “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, / for this I long, / to live in the house of the Lord, / all the days of my life, / to savour the sweetness of the Lord, / to behold His temple.”