SABBATH WAKE-UP CALL (MY WORD WILL NEVER PASS AWAY)
By REV. FR. ANTHONY OGUNYALE
SABBATH WAKE-UP CALL
Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3 / 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 / Matthew 4:12-23
SUNDAY OF THE WORD OF GOD
In Nigeria, there are 19 states that make up Northern Nigeria and they are subdivided the into North west and the North East states and North central. One of these geopolitical zones is *North East*, consisting of: Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. The most popular of them is Borno. The northeast of Nigeria is popular not because it is the most beautiful or conducive place in the country, but because of the devastating events that took place there years ago. Not from natural courses, but from human-to-human cruelty.
As Borno is situated in the northeast of Nigeria, so also the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in the 1st and gospel readings of today as we celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God. Those two places were located in the northernmost parts of Israel. Today’s gospel seems to say that where Jesus was, was exactly the land of Zebulum and Naphtali. What Isaiah wrote, the prophecy and the actions of Christ actually tallied.
Now, let us see what commentaries and tradition said about Zebulun and Naphtali.
Zebulun and Naphtali were two of Jacob’s twelve sons. Like each of the other sons, their offspring became a tribe in Israel. The tribe’s name then became the name of that region. They were originally assigned when God gave Israel the land and they broke it up into twelve tribes. Well, the Galilean section was given to Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun (Joshua chapter 9.) Zebulun and Naphtali never obeyed God when they were told to get rid of the Canaanites and hence from the beginning started with a mixed population. They were plundered by the Assyrians and since they were border regions where different races and nationalities intermingled, they were always the first to be invaded whenever a foreign army was on the move. What would it be like to grow up in such community? Do you remember what Nathaniel said when he learnt where Jesus was from:” Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Zebulum/Naphtali). Something great did come out of there - Jesus Christ. If only they had read the prophet Isaiah more carefully, they would have realised that the Saviour of the world would indeed come through the region of the north, the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun, the land of Galilee, where the Jesus indeed grew up, baptised and began His ministry.
So as Isaiah prophesied in the 1st reading, that though the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and Naphtali in the past, He would on time confer glory around the sea by far side of Jordan. The fulfilment of that prophecy is what we have in today’s gospel. And the ministry of Jesus officially began in Galilee where the Light dawned, where the bright and morning star was first to shine. Why? Because Galilee was the place of great darkness in the past and the place of great darkness always has the greatest need for light. When Jesus began His ministry, it was at the right time and the right place. He visited the neediest people.
Celebrating the Sunday of the Word of God today, the fulfilment of God’s prophecy reminds us of what Christ said about the WORD. (In his Apostolic Letter Aperuit illis issued September 30, 2019, Pope Francis instituted the celebration of Sunday of the Word of God, which is held every year on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time); He told us in a very certain words that,” Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). That is a mighty powerful statement as we see God’s prophecy coming to pass in Jesus. The Word of the Lord stands firm for ever and ever and every aspect of God's Word is rooted and grounded in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; the incarnate Son of God. He says... not a dot will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)
And what was so glorious about the fulfilment of this Word of the prophecy of Isaiah about Galilee (Zebulun/Naphtali)? Check your Bible briefly and confirm these miracles; It was in these territories that He turned water into wine, and fed the five thousand, and raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, and preached the Sermon on the Mount, and cured the centurion servant. It was His home base for His ministry where he called four of His disciples today. If I were God and I was going to ask my child to enter this world in flesh and blood, it would make sense to me to place him in the best of all possible circumstances. He would be raised in a family of wealth, intellect, and power; an Aliko Dangote or perhaps Elon Musk. Obviously, that is not how God works. God’s light is often lit on a hardened area at a difficult time. He chose Galilee (Zebulun and Naphtali).
Some of us reading this, this morning, grew up in a place just like Zebulun and Naphtali or Borno or any war-torn area. For some of us, we know such regions not from living in it, but by reading in newspaper and watching on TV. And some of us know rather by living with it. It is a place in our hearts or in our souls or in our minds or in our bodies. Yes, the world breaks all of us one way or the other, but afterward some become strong in the broken places. The cracks let in the Light and the Light shines forth from the darkness and gloom. I hope you know this to be true in your life. I know I do in mine. I know what it is like to live with/in “Zebulun and Naphtali”, and I know the joy of God’s new Light shining.
Borno in Nigeria is no longer what it used to be under the direct siege of terrorism. Life is back there. Students are back in schools and the last festive seasons were celebrated in churches and mosques peacefully. There are still packets of attacks but the terrible days are long gone. Just as the Lord decided to come to those regions was symbolic and meaningful, as it represents the Lord’s desire to gather back all of His scattered people, many occupants of displaced camps have been relocated. May God continue to visit and restore peace in all war-torn areas all over the world.
Jesus called his disciples and invited them to fish for men and women and children… a place where Nathaniel questioned its goodness. He chose them not because they were perfect or proper or well-positioned in life, but because they were from Zebulun and Naphtali. God’s WORD was coming to pass. They were cracked, but that is how the Light got in. Do not even think .... because you know yourself to be an imperfect or broken vessel. It is precisely because we are broken and imperfect that God loves us and wants to use us. Let the Light shine on the darkness of our lives and then allow it to shine forth from us.
Good morning and have a lovely Sabbath