SUNDAY’S READINGS | January 22, 2023
An Old Testament prophecy finds its fulfillment. Isaiah speaks on behalf of God, saying, “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness — on them light has shined” (9:1-2).
The lands mentioned, Zebulun and Naphtali, were annexed by the Assyrians in the mid-eighth century B.C., making them Gentile territory, a condition the prophet calls “gloom” and “anguish” and “deep darkness.” It is indeed a bitter thing to have one’s freedom and identity stolen, a homeland conquered. This very same bitterness was deeply felt in the time of Jesus as the Jewish people suffered under Roman occupation.
Moreover, on a personal level, it should be mentioned that it is virtually impossible for anyone to live this life without moments or even seasons of gloom and despair, anguish, and tears. Again and again, we cry out for help, for light, for strength, and liberation. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)
Jesus steps onto the world’s stage, fulfilling the old prophecy. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matt. 4:12-16). Jesus launches his ministry in Gentile territory, indicating that his ministry shines as a light to both Jews and Gentiles and is, therefore, universal in scope.
We may tease out the meaning of Christ as “Light to the Nations” by listening closely to one of our old friends, Pope Leo the Great.
“Taught then, dearly beloved, by these mysteries of Divine Grace, let us with reasonable joy celebrate the day of our first-fruits and the commencement of the nations’ calling: ‘giving thanks’ to the merciful God ‘who made us worthy,’ as the Apostle says, ‘to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: who delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love’; since as Isaiah prophesied, ‘the people of the nations that sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light has shined’” (“On the Feast of the Epiphany,” sermon iii).
Standing in the presence of this light, we ourselves become lights in the world. Again, Pope Leo guides us. “While [a disciple] himself keeps the brightness of a holy life, he points to many the way to the Lord like a star. In which regard, dearly beloved, ye ought all to help one another in turn, that in the kingdom of God, which is reached by right faith and good works, ye may shine as [children] of light.”
He is the light, and we are his luminaries in the world.
Look It Up: The collect of the week
Think About It: The glory of the Lord is often the light of the Lord!