A common saying is “pride comes before a fall.” And there is certainly a ring of truth to it, but that doesn’t have to be the end. Frequently in scripture one can find examples of where God reverses human expectations. Here is an instance where this saying is proven to be incorrect, or at least incomplete.
Two places connect the first reading (Is 8:23-9:3) to the gospel: Zebulun and Naphtali. But apart from being listed, why are they there? These places marked the start of the collapse of the kingdom as they were among the first to be taken captive by the Assyrians. Similarly, there is another reference to the far side of the Jordan, province of the nations.
It is within this context, using namely the symbol of light, that Isaiah prophecies hope, joy and relief of oppression: the opposite of what they were experiencing at the time. It becomes no surprise then that Jesus after his forty days in the desert goes to these places first to begin his ministry, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. He first proclaims repentance. Repentance of what?
Zebulun and Naphtali fell because of the Kings unfaithfulness; he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Jesus’ call for repentance begin with a returning to the ways of the Lord. The light that comes in darkness is seen through the eyes of repentance; first seen by those who marked the beginning of the end of the kingdom, they now are the first to witness its restoration: the first to see the light of Christ who brings salvation.
Examples of repentance are seen later in the gospel when Jesus calls his first disciples. “Follow me,” Jesus says, and ‘at once… they followed him.’ While the disciples may not have been the first to have had the call to repentance, they were the first to show what repentance looks like. Ultimately the forgiveness of God experienced through repentance draws us to a deeper participation in the mission of Christ: proclaiming the kingdom of God and curing diseases and sickness among peoples.
Even in the days of Paul, well after Jesus’ restoration, there remains those who divide the kingdom. Paul calls these to be united in belief and practice. Those who are not united by belief and practice have serious difficulties among them. The added depth to Jesus’ restorative act is very real to him when he prayed on the night before his crucifixion “that they may all be one.”
Christ proclaims the coming of God’s kingdom first to the source of the downfall of the kingdom of Judah. Do you allow Christ to heal the source of your downfalls (sins)? Repentance leads one to encounter Christ in a very real way. How do you respond? In what ways are you united in belief and practice to others? What does this look like?