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. Mt. 4
Today Jesus takes up his public ministry. And his decision to begin in the north, in Galilee, means that the first to receive his word were those who dwelt in the regions of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, that is, the tribes who, in the 8th century, were the first to be overrun by the expanding Assyrian Empire and to be carried off into exile. The first Israelites to experience the darkness of conquest and exile are now the first to see the light of God’s goodness in the Messiah. The northernmost tribes who had been ravaged by the divine judgment before all others are now given the chance for renewal and restoration before all others.
What Israel has always possessed is a faith – in its election, in the covenant, in the promises – and a hope that inviolably knows that, through all the experiences of night and through all judgments, the end of this twilight must necessarily come, because God is always faithful to his side of the covenant. Israel possesses a love for the God who redeemed it from the house of slavery and has promised to remain true. The old covenant is one single cry for its fulfillment – and yet it is unable to outline the form the fulfillment will take. God alone can provide the synthesis.
The convergence point of the lines from the old covenant, therefore, cannot be constructed and must remain open. It is only by looking backwards from the vantage point of the new covenant that this is clear. The task for Israel was to stand firm in this empty time between past and future, to accept the uncertainty, to resist the temptation to drawback the veil from the future, the pull to find a solution of its own making to what on the human level was the irresolvable dilemma of the covenant. In so far as they insisted on pressing forward to a solution of their own devising they risked missing the light when it did appear.
When John the Baptist appears, the long silence is over. He calls Israel to “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand;” to clear the ground for the appearing of the one who is to come, to let go of anything that would be an obstacle to receiving him when and as he comes. And when Jesus takes up his public ministry his words are the same as John’s: “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." God never bypasses our freedom. He waits with infinite patience for us to respond to his initiatives. Likewise, if we are to receive his light, like Israel, we are called to trust God’s freedom to speak or to be silent, to act or to be still. Certain that this is not arbitrary on his part, but is always in service of love, of imparting to us the gift of himself and of the idea he has for his Church and world and for each of us, which is far greater than anything we might have dreamt up on our own. May we place our lives unreservedly at the service of this freedom.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily this morning.