First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end He has glorified the seaward road, the land West of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.(P) The word of the Lord.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid? (R)
One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate His temple. (R)
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (R)
I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chole's people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul", or "I belong to Apollos", or "I belong to Cephas", or "I belong to Christ". Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.(P) The word of the Lord.
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 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 your 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.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We know that the Bible is divided into two parts - the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament contains hundreds of quotations and references to the Old Testament. Some of them are prophecies or predictions about the Messiah, which were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The first prophecy foretold by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled when Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary through the Holy Spirit, Isaiah (7:14). The second prophecy predicted by the prophet Micah was fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Micah (5:2). This happened because Mary and Joseph, following the requirement of their day, had gone to Bethlehem to register themselves for the census. The third prophecy foreseen by the prophet Hosea was fulfilled when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt. Hosea said, "When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt, Hosea (11:1). The fourth prophecy, which we read in today's gospel, was fulfilled when Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, Isaiah (9:1-12).
Isaiah, seven hundred years before the time of Jesus, prophesied "First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he glorified the seaward road, the land West of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone", Isaiah (8:23-9:1). Matthew believed that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus, after the arrest of John the Baptist, went from his home town Nazareth to live in Capernaum in the "region of Zebulun and Naphtali".
Let us briefly take a look at Jewish history, so we can understand this prophecy better. In the Bible, Jacob, the son of Isaac, is called "Israel" meaning, "one that struggled with the divine angel" or "one who has prevailed with God". Jacob had twelve sons who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Naphtali and Zebulun were the sixth and the tenth son of Jacob respectively. Each tribe lived in a certain area. So the "land of Zebulun" and the "land of Naphtali" refer to the land where these two tribes lived. By the time of Jesus, the land had been conquered many times, and was then under the Roman Empire.
They were on the north and west of the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan, and were predominately occupied by Gentiles and it was not part of Jewish Israel any longer. It was a land that once had belonged to the Chosen People of God, but now occupied by the Gentiles, meaning non-Jews or foreigners. This is the "Land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, the Galilee of the Gentiles" that Jesus visited almost immediately after the arrest of John the Baptist to bring light to the people who "sit in darkness" and "dwell in a land overshadowed by death".
In the Bible, "sit in darkness" refers to the lack of knowledge of God or the ignorance of God's Word. In other words, these two tribes lived not necessarily in sin but in godlessness. They lived without God. They were separated from their God. Isaiah further described the sitting in darkness to a life living in the shadow of death. That's to say lacking the knowledge of God or not knowing God or being separated from God is equal to being dead. To them Jesus preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "Repentance" not merely involves contrition or an apology, but a change in direction, a change in behavior and a change in one's life.
We see the extent of change that took place in the fishermen who became Jesus' disciples. After Jesus had appeared in their life, those fishermen radically and dramatically changed their direction. Matthew writes that as Jesus was walking by the sea, he saw some fishermen hard at work, and he called them to follow him. And they abandoned their boats and commitments and followed Jesus. From that time on, Jesus went about preaching, teaching and healing in the whole region which was exactly what Isaiah the prophet had prophesied, Isaiah (35:5-6).
What can we learn from this gospel passage?
We do not need to know all the biblical prophecies in chronological order. But it is crucial to understand and appreciate the prophecies particularly the prophecies about Jesus and their fulfilment. Because Christianity is neither rooted in fear and superstitions, nor based on fairy-tales or legends or mythology but on the special revelation of the one true God, who made Himself known through leaders, priests and prophets many times in the past and finally, fully and decisively revealed the truth about Himself in Jesus Christ.
All the prophecies did not come about because of human will, but because of God's plan. From the beginning, therefore, God has carefully planned and prepared the salvation of the whole human race and seeks all peoples both believers and non-believers.
Let us turn our hearts and souls to Jesus Christ so we too may be transformed by the love and light of Christ.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!