“In the days past the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the days to come he will confer glory on the Way of the Sea on the far side of Jordan.”
This brief description from the prophet Isaiah summarised the disaster that virtually obliterated Israel’s northern kingdom in the 7th century before Christ. These lands, surrounding the Sea of Galilee, would, in the fullness of time, become the home that nurtured Jesus for the first 30 years of his life, and would witness the beginning of his ministry.
This northern kingdom was richly blessed. A plentiful supply of water assured the fertility of the land and the prosperity of the people. Such blessings did not go unnoticed, leading to conquest and subjection to neighbouring Assyria. From this disaster the prophet awakened Israel to a renewed vision of salvation: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone.”
The prophet promised that the future Messiah would break the rod of their oppression. The joy that would be theirs on that day would not be measured in conquest, but in the joy of God’s presence. “You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice in your presence as men rejoice at harvest time.”
Every life is the living out of Israel’s journey into the light of God’s presence. Frailty and sin frequently obscure that light, but its brilliance can never be dimmed in the souls of those who entrust themselves to its presence.
Such was the encounter of Jesus with his first disciples by the Sea of Galilee. There was nothing extraordinary in the context of this meeting, a man from the nearby town of Nazareth meeting fishermen going about their work on the seashore. The meeting is remembered because of the generosity of its invitation, and the joy with which it was received. “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they left their nets and followed him.”
The call into God’s presence is not a proposal for negotiation. It is a grace that sin could never anticipate, but which must be embraced with humility. As the brothers left their nets behind, so must we surrender all that binds us to a sinful past. That call will be repeated throughout our lives, in times of both joy and sadness. We hear its voice in the humility of attentive prayer.
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