“The Great Light” (2 panels)
Meditation on Light, Series I, Day 1
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang
There is no gloom where there had been distress. Where once he degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, now he has glorified the way of the Sea, the land across the Jordan, Galilee of the Nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone.
Isaiah 8:23-9:1 (NABRE) or 9:1-2
Season of Light
On Christmas Eve, twinkling, star-topped evergreens and candlelight processions ring in this season of light. On February 2, the fortieth day after Christmas, the Church celebrates Candlemas, commemorating the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In communion with the angels and saints in heaven, the faithful glorify Christ, the light of the world, with another candlelight procession.
From Christmas to Candlemas, the Church heralds the arrival of “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Simeon’s Spirit-filled prayer rejoices in God whose Son has come to enlighten the earth.
Galilee of the Gentiles
As one Paschal candle enkindles many on Easter, Jesus came to gather into one his scattered family throughout the earth. Fractured at the Fall and divided into warring tribes and nations, Adam-Israel waited centuries for their promised redeemer. When the Son of Man finally walked upon Galilean soil, Matthew invoked the ancient geography of the ten lost tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel (Reuben, Simeon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, and Ephraim).
Even in his lifetime, Jacob’s sons quarreled among themselves. Nine centuries later, they split into the northern and southern kingdoms as a consequence of idolatry. By 740–730 BC, forced deportations of Israelites from the ten tribes to Assyria had begun (1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Kings 15:29). In their place, the king of Assyria populated the cities of Samaria with Gentiles (2 Kings 17:24).
Considered a half-breed by the Jews, the reviled Samaritans descended from this mixed population. Northern Palestine became known as the Galilee of the Gentiles, which is more literally translated as the “circuit of the Gentiles/nations” (Galil Ha-Goyim). Surrounded by Phoenician, Syrian, and Samaritan neighbors, the Galileans frequently encountered new ideas. Jesus brought his gospel of salvation to this region, ripe for the new covenant.
Zebulun and Naphtali
After the arrest of John the Baptist, Matthew writes that Jesus went to “the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,” fulfilling the ancient prophecy of Isaiah.
When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness
have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.”
As far as Jesus’ contemporaries knew, Zebulun and Naphtali had disappeared with the other tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. Associating Jesus with these names resurrected long-lost brothers who had been buried for centuries. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures mysteriously testify that the northern tribes have remained “to this day” (1 Chronicles 5:26). Rabbinic commentators acknowledge God’s intention to reunite the twelve tribes into one (Isaiah 11:11; Jeremiah 31:8; Ezekiel 37:19-24). Nonetheless, the continued existence of the ten tribes gradually receded into the fog of legend.
Twelve Tribes of the New Israel
Out of the fog, the larger-than-life Jesus preached in “Zebulun and Naphtali” and claimed the throne of King David, his father, in Jerusalem. Addressing his twelve disciples, Jesus made this astonishing promise:
“Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Twelve Apostles of the Lamb
In the book of Revelation, the 144,000 (12 × 12 × 1000) marked with the seal of the Lamb hail from every tribe of the Israelites (Revelation 7:4). Embracing people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” the new Israel restores the universal paradise of the Garden of Eden. In dazzling, fairy tale-like images, John describes the new Jerusalem as a city with “twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).
Lamp of the Lamb
Through Mary, Queen of Apostles, Isaiah’s prophecy of a “great light” that would illumine the darkness came to fruition at Bethlehem.