3rd Ordinary Sunday (Year A)
First Reading: Isaiah 8:23-9:3 Second Reading:1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 Gospel Reading: Matthew 4:12-23
“THE LORD IS MY LIGHT AND MY SALVATION!”
The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. The preacher's text was, "I am the light of the world." At the close of the service, she went to the minister and said, "Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?" The minister replied, "No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world, and I am one of the lights." The little lass looked at him for a moment, and then solemnly said, "Well, sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, 'cause it's awful dark down there!" Christians are, indeed, as the Master said, "the light of the world." As one of those lights, are you "hanging out" in some dark alley?
Today is the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. On Sundays the First Reading and the Gospel Reading are usually coordinated with each other. But, in this particular Sunday there is more synchronicity because a part of the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is quoted literally in the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew. The Church reads this text of Isaiah as a preparation for our hearing St. Matthew describe the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. St. Matthew quotes this passage of Isaiah directly, thus invoking its aura of triumphant expectation as an appropriate response to the Messianic age ushered in by Jesus, whose vocation and destiny it is 'to fulfill what had been said through Isaiah the prophet.'
Two words come through strongly in the Scripture Readings of today. They are 'light' and 'unity.' In the First Reading and the Gospel Reading there is the image of light shining in the darkness, light bringing hope, freedom and joy, of burdens being lifted, or prisoners being freed. God wishes to redeem all people through Christ, who dispels the darkness of the world. Jesus is that light that shines in the world and brings the world renewed hope, joy, forgiveness and peace. And in the Second Reading in his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul asks the Corinthians to overcome all divisions existing in their community and implores them to foster unity and concern for each other.
“THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT!”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we have the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah giving hope to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali, who dwelt in the land of gloom and walked in darkness. On them, the prophet says that great light has shone. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the original twelve tribes of Israel. Joshua had assigned them to the northern area of the country. Zebulun settled to the northwest of Galilee and Naphtali in the northeast. They were the first provinces in northern Palestine to be conquered by the Assyrian empire in the eighth century B.C. and the inhabitants were taken away in exile. They became known as part of 'the Lost Tribes of Israel.' For the next several centuries the region was called 'Heathen Galilee.' The prophets considered the area to be a 'land of death.' Isaiah offers instead a vision of hope, based on what he sees as the certain intervention of God. He predicts that the landscape of gloom will change, and light and peace will again come to the region. The prophecy could be pointing to an ideal king, one who will bring rejoicing.
St. Matthew interprets it as a sign that the Messiah will come there. Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. It is significant that the first provinces to fall to the Assyrians would be the first to see the full light of Christ´s ministry.
THE BIGINNING OF JESUS' PUBLIC MINISTRY:
Today’s Gospel Reading tells us about the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. The Evangelist Matthew tells us that after John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and as spoken by the prophets, Jesus withdrew to Galilee, his home province and began his own proclamation. John the Baptist is in prison and with his voice silenced, his ministry came to an end. It was thus opportune for Jesus to fill the void. So, he leaves Nazareth for the town of Capernaum. The motive for Jesus making this move seems to be the arrest of John the Baptist. While no details are given about the arrest of John, it looks as if Jesus is continuing the work started by him, his own mission of God’s Kingdom.
a) “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.”
St. Matthew says that Jesus left his home town of Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, a town in Galilee, which, he tells us, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee 'in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.' This reminds the Evangelist of a prophecy from Isaiah which he now sees being fulfilled in Jesus, “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, ... the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light; on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen."
That is to say that Jesus is the Light that comes to those living in darkness. To emphasize this fact, today's Liturgy uses as the First Reading the passage from Isaiah, which St. Matthew quotes in his Gospel and which, interesting enough, is also used as one of the readings on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of the Savior, 'The Light of the world.'
At this time Capernaum was an unlikely place for Jesus to begin his ministry. It was regarded as a 'remote' province. It was a rebellious region where even Jews were not noted for their observance of the Law. Yet the prophecy suggests that 'The Light of the world' is to be found in Galilee. And it is precisely in this Galilean town of Capernaum that Jesus, the Messiah, begins his mission.
b) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was the keynote address of Jesus upon the start of his public mission. Like John the Baptist, Jesus also uses the word 'Repent' in his initial utterances. There is thus a continuity in their ministries. But while John asked the people to repent to prepare for the coming of the Promised One, Jesus, told the people to repent because 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Repentance is the response to Jesus’ call to us. ‘Repent’ usually means to be sorry for, to regret some wrong actions we have done in the past. Jesus, however, is asking for much more than that. The call is not just to be sorry for past sins and not to do them any more. It is a call for a change of direction from now on and into the future. The Greek word for repent is 'metanoia,' which implies a radical change in one’s thinking; it means looking at life in a completely new way. It is only when we begin to make this radical change that we begin to become part of that Kingdom, that we begin effectively to come under the influence of God's power in our lives. We begin to see things the way God sees them and our behavior changes accordingly.
Now, 'the kingdom of heaven' can be a very misleading term. To many, it may be identified with 'heaven,' the place up there where we hope to go to after death, if we have behaved ourselves. Again, 'kingdom' for us suggests the territory ruled over by a king. But actually, it indicates more the power of being a king than the place over which one is king. To be in the kingdom, then, is not to be in a particular place, either in this life or the next. Rather it is to be living one's life - wherever we are - under the loving Kingly and Fatherly power of God. It is to be in a relationship of loving submission to one's God and Lord and to be in an environment where values like truth, love, compassion, justice, freedom and peace prevail.
c) “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
As Jesus began his public ministry his first act was to gather some disciples who would share his work and his mission. They are not the Pharisees or Scribes, not scholars or influential members of the community, but fishermen who may have been quite illiterate. It is significant that the call takes place right in their working place and the initiative for the call comes from Jesus. Jesus had obviously been watching them at work. He knew he would need others to help him in spreading the news of God’s Kingdom.
While the Evangelists Luke and John allowed time for the disciples to find out more about Jesus before they were called, Matthew did no such thing. He immediately showed Jesus calling two set of fishermen brothers — Simon (later renamed Peter) & Andrew and James & James. And except for telling them "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men," He gave no indication about what following him entailed — where they were going and what they would do. Matthew was not concerned with those details. His concern was that Jesus was about to begin his public ministry and he needed help so that he could make himself, the 'great light,' shine on people.
How did the first four disciples respond to Jesus' call? In St. Matthew's words, "At once they left their nets and followed him." Even though they had no previous knowledge of Jesus, they put their total trust in him, leaving behind everything, their fishing nets, their parents and family, not knowing where it would all lead. Jesus himself had already taken this step in leaving Nazareth, his family and his livelihood as a carpenter for the sake of his mission. From now on their life would consist not in worrying what they could get and keep but in service to their brothers and sisters, especially those in greatest need.
The call to follow Jesus establishes a relationship between what the disciples are now, and what they are to become. Jesus tells them they will be fishers of men. Their ordinary work, drawing sustenance from the darkness of the sea, becomes a sign of a deeper reality, drawing men and women from the darkness of sin and death. It's all about gathering together those who are waiting for the kingdom of heaven. These chosen people now share the ministry in which Jesus was engaged and is summarized as teaching, preaching and healing those who were sick in the context of the kingdom. For the moment 'Jesus is the Light' which the people in darkness are rejoicing to see; but he will soon say to his followers, 'You are the light of the world,' and that is his purpose in choosing his followers.
ST. PAUL IMPLORING FOR UNITY IN THE CORINTHIAN COMMUNITY:
In the Second Reading of today from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul implores the Corinthians, in the name of Jesus, that there be no factions among them, rather they be united in mind and judgment. The Corinthian community was divided; it was bickering and fragmenting; ambition and rivalry were brewing. The Reading tells us that people were taking sides along the lines of various personalities in the community, instead of the message of the gospel. Paul's success in winning converts in Corinth, Greece attracted considerable interest among other missionaries. One of these was an Egyptian Jew named Apollos. The latter knew only a limited amount about Christianity, having been a disciple of John the Baptist. In Ephesus Paul took him aside and explained the full range of Jesus' teachings. Apollos then went to Corinth and founded a second church. Peter also seems to have followed this pattern. Eventually there were four separate Christian communities in the city and a jealous struggle developed between them. St Paul warns them against the danger of divisions, or literally, of schisms. He teaches that there should be only one church that of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ, only one person, the one who suffered, died and rose for all, the one in whose name all of them have been baptized and he cannot be divided. Hence all bickering among them is deplorable.
We too, are called to follow Jesus. No matter what our circumstances, or what we do for a living, we must do our part in bringing the Good News to those we live with, work with, and meet each day. So, we each have a hand in spreading the news of God’s Kingdom.
By our baptism, we have received the light of Jesus and have thus been called to discipleship. In this regard, we have to begin with ourselves in the task of making the light of Jesus shine. We can do so by first uncovering the many dark areas within us - our selfishness, weaknesses, hurts, and inclinations to greed, power and fame. But as we continue to do so, we are also to bring that light to others. If Jesus came to us as the 'great light,' we are to be 'small lights' to others for the same task - to disperse the darkness that continues to envelope the world. This is what our following of Jesus should be about.
Too often, though, as we learn in the Second Reading that our light is diminished due to divisions, factions, rivalry or infighting among ourselves and our efforts to bring 'the Light' and be 'the light' are often fragmented and uneven. Let us then be of one mind and of one purpose and foster unity and peace. Let us accept Jesus' invitation and announce to others by the way we live, "The Lord is my light and my salvation," and he wants to be yours too! And this is the Good news of today.