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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

One of the things at which I am continuously amazed is the depth and richness of Sacred Scripture. More often than not the words we read and hear are only the tip of the iceberg. There are often layers of meaning hidden below. And contextual knowledge, such as historical information or knowledge about Jewish culture, acts as a kind of key to unlocking the hidden treasures hidden in the text. Today’s passage from our Gospel is no exception. After the death of John the Baptist Jesus goes to the region of Galilee to preach. He calls His first four disciples and He goes all around Galilee preaching and curing diseases. It seems like a common theme in the Gospels. Jesus travels with His disciples preaching and healing.

But we should pause and look at the significance of the setting in which this all takes place. Jesus probably travels north from Nazareth to Galilee because He knows that it will be dangerous for Him to preach closer to Jerusalem where John was beheaded. Furthermore, Matthew notes that this fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that the people who sit in darkness in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali have seen a great light. But what is so important about this area where Jesus begins His ministry? A bit of Jewish history should shed some light on this passage. And so I would like to offer a brief history lesson.

About a thousand years before Jesus was born God promises King David that his kingdom will last forever. David’s kingdom is the twelve tribes of Israel. However, by 922 B.C. after David’s son Solomon dies, these twelve tribes split into two different kingdoms. The ten tribes in the north become the kingdom of Israel and the two tribes in the south become the kingdom of Judah. These two kingdoms are at war with each other. They are constantly at each other’s throats for a couple hundred years until about 722 B.C. This is when the powerful and brutal Assyrian Empire came in and decimated the ten northern tribes. Who they did not kill they took into exile and these Israelites mixed in with the Gentile nations. This was a tragedy. The majority of the people of God, the sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel, were wiped out. But it gets worse. In 587 B.C. the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah were taken into exile by the Babylonians who burned the city of Jerusalem to the ground and destroyed the temple. At this point in history it seemed like God had totally abandoned His people. It seemed that God had failed. All seemed lost. The kingdom of David promised to last forever didn’t even last for five hundred years. However, about fifty years after the Babylonian exile the king of Persia allowed the two southern tribes to return from exile. They rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the temple. There was a small glimmer of hope. However, the ten northern tribes would never return and were dispersed among the Gentile nations.

With all this in mind let’s once again look at the Gospel. Jesus goes to the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali to begin His ministry. Zebulun and Naphtali. What is so special about this territory? These were the first two tribes of the northern kingdom to go into exile. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He went to the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. Where the exile of God’s people began, Jesus begins to undo these terrible events. Where darkness overcame Israel, a light begins to shine. When Jesus says that the kingdom is at hand, people would have understood this in terms of gathering the tribes of Israel together. And He hasn’t come just for the two southern tribes. He has come to restore the northern ten tribes, those tribes thought to be lost forever. This is the significance of Jesus preaching the coming of the kingdom and assembling a group of twelve apostles. But the kingdom promised to last forever is not an earthly kingdom. It is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Kingdoms and empires of this world come and go. But the kingdom of Heaven perdures. Just as Andrew, Peter, James, and John were invited to be involved in the work of establishing the kingdom you and I are offered the same invitation. We are invited to live as citizens of Heaven and merely pilgrims on earth, called to store up treasure in Heaven where neither rust nor moth can destroy. Wherever we do the will of God the kingdom is made manifest on earth. Now, I am not posing a single solution for how this is to be accomplished. The will of God will take different shape in each of our lives. However, it is our duty to daily ask ourselves what nets the Lord invites us to lay down. It is our duty to discern which direction He is leading us and how we might manifest His kingdom. Too many of us float through life without asking what the Lord might be calling us to, how we might manifest His kingdom here on earth. In a world that is scourged with darkness and despair, where the empire of our spiritual enemy has taken many captive and threatens to take many more, will we work to reflect the light of Christ which offers hope and freedom from our pain and misery? Will we proclaim with our actions and our words “repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand!”?

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