How many of us could rattle off with ease the names of the twelve sons of Jacob? We would probably come up with Judah, Joseph, and Benjamin right away. But what about Zebulun and Naphtali? We might need a little help with these two.
We hear both names in the Gospel and in the first reading for this Sunday. A little history may be of help at this point. When Joshua assigned portions of the Promised Land to the tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali got land around the Sea of Galilee. It was good land, filled with fertile valleys for farming and grazing. But there was also a significant drawback. If an enemy came against Israel from the north, Zebulun and Naphtali would be in the front lines. In fact their territory was the first to fall into the hands of the king of Assyria when he got serious about making his empire even bigger.
The prophet Isaiah lived to see the defeat of these northern tribes. But as God’s spokesman Isaiah was also a man of hope. He was confident that one day all would be restored by a future king from the great line of David. This is the theme of the first reading. The people in Zebulun and Naphtali knew plenty about darkness and gloom. But Isaiah has good news: things are going to change for them. Their days will again be bright and they will be free from hardship and oppression.
Matthew wants us to know Isaiah’s vision of a brighter day is fulfilled when Jesus arrives in Galilee. He quotes from Isaiah’s oracle extensively to make sure we do not miss the point. If the authorities thought the arrest of John the Baptist would break the momentum they were wrong. Jesus picks up where John left off and begins to preach about the kingdom of heaven.
The rest of the gospel records the call of the first apostles. First there are the two brothers Simon and Andrew. They are casting nets into the sea. And Matthew makes the point that they were not doing this for sport. Fishing was their livelihood. But when Jesus calls they leave their nets to follow. During their time in the Lord’s company they will learn to awaken people to the kingdom of heaven by casting the net of the gospel.
Next we meet James and John, those famous sons of Zebedee. They are mending nets, making them strong so they will not break and prove useless for fishing. But during their time in the Lord’s company they will find out there is plenty of spiritual mending to do before they are ready to cast the net of the gospel.
In the account of their calling Matthew includes the detail that they left their boat and their father to follow Jesus. But they are not done with boats. They will be spending plenty of time in a boat with the Lord and they will be serving their Father in heaven as his disciples.
Speaking of mending, Paul had to do plenty of mending within the faith community of Corinth. The church in Corinth was a very spirited group with people pulling them in lots of different directions. Paul wrote them at least five times to point them in the right direction. He also visited them several times during his missionary years in the east. In the second reading for this Sunday Paul urges the Corinthians not to break up into separate groups based on the popularity of their favorite preachers. It was tempting to rally around charismatic people like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas. But Paul wants them to rally around just one—the Lord Jesus. Paul reminds the Corinthians they all serve the one Lord in whose name they were baptized.