When I was a young boy I would hear my dad or his friends use this phrase when the veracity of one’s story was called into question. It comes from an old radio show of the 1930’s and was popular in American culture for awhile. It comes to mind now as I consider today’s readings because without a good awareness of Israel’s history, today’s readings cannot be appreciated.
The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, which Isaiah mentions in the first reading are in the north and hug the west banks of the Sea of Galilee. The city of Nazareth is in Zebulun, Tiberius and Capernaum in Naphtali. They were two of the ten tribes of Israel conquered, broken up and scattered by the Assyrians between 735-732 BC. It is this piece of history to which Isaiah refers when he says, First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but then he gives them hope saying, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Jesus spent much of His public life in the north, in the area of the Sea of Galilee. He grew up in Nazareth and it was there in the synagogue that He first announced His messianic presence: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:16-21). Soon thereafter He visited Capernaum’s synagogue and expelled the unclean spirit, after which His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee (Mk. 1:21-28).
In today’s Gospel, Matthew calls to mind the words of Isaiah, seeing Jesus as the Light who comes for those who sit in darkness, preaching His primary message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He calls His first disciples—Simon, Andrew, James, John—and they left their nets and followed Him. These would be the core of the Apostles and all but John would die a martyr’s death, reminding us of the central mission of Faith as recalled by Paul in the second reading: to preach the gospel… so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.