Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610. Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 21, 2023]. Original source:

RCL Year A, Epiphany 3
Isaiah 9:1-4, Psalm 27:1 and 5-13, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18, Saint Matthew 4:12-23

In Saint Matthew we frequently read or hear the formula “so that what had been spoken through the prophet…might be fulfilled.” The Gospel today contains it, and the Lectionary helpfully gives us, as the First Lesson, the very prophecy from Isaiah that today’s Gospel fulfills. Let us look at that prophecy to see what Matthew proclaims about Jesus by using it.

Isaiah declares, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined.”[1] Isaiah speaks of Zebulun and Naphtali, names of two of Jacob’s sons who gave their names to two of the twelve tribes of Israel whose territory lay in northern Palestine. The people of Zebulun and Naphtali were known for two things. Their location placed them next to the Gentiles, and Gentiles lived among them. They were susceptible to the religion of their Gentile neighbors, and they were known to stray often from the worship of God to the worship of the gods of the Gentiles. Secondly, they were the first to be overrun by the Assyrians in the eighth century before Christ when so many of the people of the twelve tribes were deported to Babylon. Isaiah refers to both things when he says they “were in anguish” and “walked in darkness.”

Saint Matthew appropriates Isaiah’s prophecy that Zebulun and Naphtali will no longer be in gloom and will see a great light in order to proclaim that it will be Jesus who forgives their sin of worshipping false gods and that it will be Jesus who relieves their distress at being defeated and deported.

We learn in the Gospel that Jesus leaves his home in Nazareth to go north to Capernaum in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali to begin his ministry. He inaugurates his ministry among the especially downtrodden. From among them he selects Peter and Andrew, and James and John; he commands them to follow him, and they leave their nets.

Jesus has begun to proclaim the kingdom. Like John, he calls for repentance, but John had preached that the kingdom would come. Jesus declares that the kingdom “has come near.” Jesus embodies the forgiveness that is being granted, and he is the “great light” people can begin to see.

Zebulun and Naphtali only seem far away. What is true of them is true also of New York and Los Angeles, Scranton and Jermyn, and Tuscarora and Tupelo. We all have sinned and suffered accordingly. The remedy God appoints is the same regardless of time or of location. “The Lord is the strength of his people, * a safe refuge for his anointed.”[2] Jesus may have walked only in Palestine long ago; he may have been crucified only once in Jerusalem long ago. But the power of the cross overtakes time and place. As Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[3]

[1] Isaiah 9:2.

[2] Psalm 28:10.

[3] I Corinthians 1:10-18.