When I was in the seventh and eighth grade at New York Mills Junior High we had religious release time on Wednesday mornings. Most of the students headed for their churches in different parts of town. But there was no Catholic Church in town. So, the Catholics had their religion classes in one of the meeting rooms at city hall. Guess they weren’t so touchy about the separation of church and state in those days.
Our teacher was Fr. Tarman from Bluffton and he loved to teach Bible history and I would like to do some of that today.
I will begin with King Solomon. He built the first temple in the city of Jerusalem. After he died, in 922 B.C., the kingdom of Israel was divided into two parts because his sons could not get along with each other. One son set up the Northern Kingdom which covered territory that was later called Galilee and Samaria. The other son set up the Southern Kingdom which included Jerusalem and its surrounding territory.
The Northern Kingdom fared very well for 200 years. Precisely 200 years. From 922 BC until 722 BC. That’s when the King of Assyria began to conquer the world. In 721 BC the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians and that was a catastrophe because the Assyrians had a totally unique way of handling the survivors. They took the Jewish refugees off one by one to different villages throughout their empire which was a very widespread empire. And after that deportation, the Jewish refugees could not find each other. In other words, they could not regroup and build up an army and attack the king of Assyria.
Two of those northern tribes were Zebulon and Naphtali. They were two of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. Never heard from again. They were mentioned in our first reading today and in our gospel today.
Twenty years later - in 701 BC - the king of Assyria began to capture the Southern Kingdom. In fact, he captured all of the south except the city of Jerusalem. He had the Holy city totally surrounded and it was clear that he would capture the city with very little effort. He sent a letter to the Jewish king saying: You might as well surrender because you are trapped like a bird in a cage. It was a very dark day for the People of God. If they surrendered or if they were captured, they would be deported to the ends of the earth.
All of this historical background sets the stage for today’s reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. The prophet says, “We are walking in darkness. We are living in gloom. Why is it such a dark day? Because soon we will suffer the fate of Zebulon and Naphtali. We will soon be captured by the enemy and then we will never see each other again.” But then the prophet says, “Look. There is a light shining in the darkness. The light is God and God will save us.” And he was correct.
In the middle of the night, in some mysterious way, God did intervene. When the people of Jerusalem looked out the window the next morning, the enemy soldiers were gone. The enemy soldiers had packed up and left in the middle of the night. To this day, no one knows why they left. The bottom line is that the Holy City was spared, and the People of God did not fall victim to genocide after all. And they gave all the credit to God. God was the light that was shining in the darkness and saving the people.
Now let’s jump forward in our historical timeline. We jump forward 750 years to the action that takes place in today’s Gospel. And we go the land of Zebulon and Naphtali. Those two tribes had been living in the territory which was called Galilee in the time of Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am living in Galilee, in Capernaum; in the land of Zebulon and Naphtali.” Then He says, “The people who were living in the darkness now see a great light - And I am that light! I am the light of the world.” Then Jesus goes on to say, “I bring the Gospel of light to the people, and I cure every disease and illness among the people.”
I will close my homily by saying that we all need to turn to Christ our Light and pray for healing. Why? Because each of us is a wounded person. We need physical healing for our physical limitations. We need emotional healing for our fears and anxieties as we look at the future. We need moral healing for the sins that we have committed. We need spiritual healing for the times that we have turned away from God or have been distant from God. We also need the healing of broken relationships.
Today’s gospel passage is about healing. It concludes with these words: Jesus was curing every disease and illness among the people. This Gospel passage is about hurting people in the time of Christ. But it is also about us because we are hurting people. If we are fully truthful, we can name areas where we need physical healing or emotional healing or spiritual healing or the healing of relationships. And then we need to place our trust in Christ, our savior. Yes, He is able to provide us with the healing that we need.
We pray now for the grace that we need to place our trust in the healing power of our Savior.