The Great Light

Mt 4:13-16   Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
In the previous meditation we saw John refer to Jesus as ‘the light of men’. We step aside now into Matthew’s Gospel to see Matthew picking up the same idea but through an Old Testament prophecy. So let’s consider the same thing again, but from a slightly different angle. There will be some repetition but that will only clarify the point.

 Imagine a world with no Sun. Obviously it would be very cold but it would filled with blind people, for they say if you live in pitch blackness you go blind. But imagine this sunless world, not being a freezing wasteland and the people on it not blind but just not seeing. Then imagine someone arriving from another planet who has the same human form but who emanates light. If you’ve grown used to the dark you might not appreciate him coming for he reveals the world all around you as you’ve never seen it before. You start to see yourself and realize what you’re like. You see other people and realize what they’re like. Suddenly you appreciate the world in a way you’d never appreciated it before because now you can ‘see’.
Jesus comes as light to a dark land. It is Galilee in the north of Israel. It is ‘dark’ for two reasons. First, because it is in the north, it had been prey many times to invaders from the north. Syria, Assyria, Babylon, had all at various times invaded from the north. It was a land that historically had known much bloodshed. Indeed it was a land of the shadow of death.” But then it was also a land far from the religious life of Jerusalem. Historically, when the nation had been divided into ‘Judah’ in the south and ‘Israel’ in the north, after Solomon’s reign, ‘Israel’ had a terrible history of apostasy, being led astray from the outset by Jeroboam who set up idols north and south of the land and led the northern nation into idolatry throughout their history until they were eventually deported. It had a spiritually dark history and it is to this land that God sends His Son. The light from heaven comes to a dark spot of the earth and shines.
Spiritually Galilee was a no-go area, separated from their religious southern cousins by Samaria in the middle, a hybrid people, blocking the south off. There is a form of religion here, as we’ll see, that was powerless and where Satan had free reign (see Mk 1:21 -24). The darkness was real and, from the numbers of sick that were soon brought to Jesus, the people were in a bad way. Into their midst comes one who speaks a different religious language, a language of love and reality. He appears to show no concern for class or creed but ministers God’s love to whoever would come to him. It was a practical love that transformed lives. It accepted them as they were, and blessed them with the power of God so demons fled, and healing flowed. Health and life followed him wherever he went.
Suddenly in this dark land, laughter was heard again and lives were released and hope returned. Suddenly it is clear that God is in their midst and the goodness of God is being poured out in very real, very practical ways. Suddenly the darkness is falling back before the light that is shining forth through this itinerant preacher-cum-miracle worker. It’s not just a glimmer in the darkness, it is a ‘great light’ and the word spreads like wildfire and crowds come flocking to it like moths to a candle on a dark evening. Never in the history of the earth has such a thing been known. The occasional miracles of some of the prophets from the past are put in the shade by the brilliance of what is happening. This is God on the loose. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness falls back.

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