When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
He went around all of Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness among the people.
What was the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali? Just a wee bit of biblical history. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of Jacob’s twelve sons. Each son became the head of a tribe and was given land in Israel. When Assyria invaded and conquered Israel, the lands and people of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the first to be taken over. You can read about this in the 2 Book of Kings chapters 15 to 17. It was an area that was occupied by many non-Jews and many Jews who had married Gentiles, or Jews who were influenced by Gentile ways. They were looked down upon by other “pure” Jews. That is probably why they were referred to as the “Galilee of the Gentile.” They had known the darkness for so long. Ironically, the first of the lands conquered by the Assyrians were the first to see the light of Jesus.
I was intrigued by the phrase, “people who sat in darkness.” Have you ever sat in the darkness? Not the darkness that can change by merely switching on the light. Not the darkness that is sometimes necessary for new life to germinate. I mean the darkness that comes over your spirit, your soul, your whole being. The darkness seems to totally envelop you and weigh you down?
Have you ever sat in that kind darkness? That darkness can be caused by so many things: grief at the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, depression, addiction, a broken relationship with spouse or children. Sometimes we are just tired of life or worn down by the harshness of life.
There are so many in our parish who feel the darkness of life for a multitude of reasons. What happens to us when we are in the darkness? In the darkness we grope. We look for answers to questions that have no answer that will satisfy. Sometimes we are nearly paralyzed by the darkness or go through life on automatic pilot. We may try to find our way out or we may just succumb to the darkness. Yet, someplace deep within us we long for the light.
I have to say that when I am in that kind of dark place, the light that comes is not always a bright light. More often than not, it is a tiny little glimmer. It is like the morning star that stands against the darkness of the night. When you are in that kind of dark place it is not always easy to hold on to hope. The light holds the same message … no matter if it is a tiny glimmer of light or a brilliant light. It is the promise that we hear in the Canticle of Zechariah.
“Through the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn will break upon us.
To shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, Matthew says, “he withdrew.” Matthew did not mean that Jesus was getting out of town, but rather, he was taking up the work of John. Today we might say, “he regrouped.” They imprisoned John. They silenced John’s voice, but Jesus picks up the ministry and his voice will not be silenced. It will not plunge the message into darkness.
Where does Jesus go? He goes to the place considered by others to be the darkest of places … the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. The place that had known the darkness for so long. Jesus always tends to go to the place and people that need him most. Jesus begins to preach and his words offered light.
It is the message that Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry. “Repent!” Repent, not in the narrow sense of just being sorry for sin, but in the deepest meaning of repent: turn back to God, turn your face to God and believe the Good News, turn toward the light of Christ Turn away for whatever darkness overshadows your life. Reach out and take God’s hand to be led out of the dark times of life. Believe that God, as Jeremiah tells us,
“For I know the plans I have for you.
They are plans for good and not for disaster.
To give you a future and a hope.”
At times it seems like the darkness will never end. We feel that God has abandoned us or, at least, has gone silent in our lives. Trust in God. Trust in God’s love. Hold onto hope. God never abandons us. Believe that God walks with you even in the darkest of times. God is never away from us. God never leaves us. God is faithful. God is the light determined to break into our darkness.
-Sister Teresa Tuite, OP