22 January 2017: Third Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 8:23-9:3 Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 Mt 4:12-23

Light comes to the shadowlands

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week’s readings foretell and fulfill the promises to people living in darkness.

In the first reading, Isaiah foretells the former northern kingdom of Israel’s deliverance from the Assyrians. This restoration will not simply lift the darkness of foreign occupation, but will bring joy to the people. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Jesus’ ministry, which begins in today’s gospel, fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy.

The second reading continues Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul admonishes the Corinthians for their disunity and quarrels. He hears that they are pledging loyalty to human leaders–Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas–rather than to Christ. Paul tells them that Christ didn’t send him to baptize in Paul’s name, but to preach Christ’s good news. Their disunity empties Christ’s cross of its meaning: salvation for all.

Matthew’s gospel announces the start of Jesus’ ministry, which begins after Jesus is baptized and is tempted in the desert. The place, the disciples, and acts of ministry are all significant:

  • Place. Jesus’ move from Nazareth to Capernaum, a town in the former Naphtali territory, fulfills Isaiah’s oracle about “the light rising upon Zebulun and Naphtali.” The Israelites in this region were the first Jews displaced from the Promised Land (by the Assyrians in 733 BC), and they experienced a time of darkness and death. Matthew places the start of Jesus’ ministry here to show the return of light and hope to these first-displaced Jews.
  • Disciples. The Greek word ἀκολουθέω (ah-koh-loo-THEH-oh), translated here as “follow,” means “to join (someone) on the road.” Jesus asks the fishermen not just to “come with him,” but also to “become disciples to his way.” In both the Greek and Jewish worlds, disciples chose their teachers. Jesus reverses the usual order by choosing his own disciples. Also somewhat surprising is that they “immediately” respond, leaving their livelihood and families. Their encounter with Jesus results in radical change.
  • Acts of ministry. Matthew defines Jesus’ ministry as “teaching,” “preaching,” and “healing.” Jesus teaches in the synagogues, where the community discussed God’s law (Torah) and God’s words (the prophets). Jesus preaches the same message as the Baptizer: metanoia, “change your mind/heart”–turn away from sin and turn toward God. Jesus heals the sick and weak, offering people hope and joy. Jesus’ prophetic actions announce the start of God’s messianic kingdom.

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider our roles in the kingdom Jesus announces. Isaiah tells us worldly kingdoms come and go; they are sometimes good, but sometimes gloomy and joyless. God’s kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus’ ministry, will be different: God’s Law and God’s Word will rule this kingdom, full of hope and joy. God’s kingdom is open to all; all are called to be disciples to God’s way. When we encounter God, radical change can happen. Can we answer immediately? Can we allow ourselves to be chosen, rather than to choose? Can we follow a path that is not our own? Will we change our hearts and minds?

—Terence Sherlock

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