FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 8:23—9:3 | Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14 | 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 | Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
This Sunday we move further into the series of readings for the liturgical time called in our tradition “Ordinary Time”. Our readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time recounts how the God's people of old experienced the joy of God's light and no longer dwell in the gloom. This light of Christ unites us and bids us to come after him and build the Kingdom of Heaven.
Catherine, a 5 year old cutie, asked her mother, "How did the human race appear?" Her mother answered, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children and so was all mankind made." Two days later Catherine asked her father the same question. The father answered, "Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved." The confused girl returned to her mother and said, "Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they developed from monkeys?" The mother answered, "Well, Catherine dear, it is very simple: I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his."
The Old Testament (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10) reports the splitting into two of United Kingdom of Israel following the death of King Solomon. In our First Reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of “the land of Zebulun and Naphtali,” two Israelite tribes, referring to the so-called “Northern Kingdom”, or simply “Israel”, inhabited by 10 tribes of Israel. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, formed the so-called “Southern Kingdom”, often simply called “Judah.” Isaiah refers to it as “a place of darkness” because during his time it was populated primarily by pagans, and the few Jews remaining had difficulty holding onto their ancestral faith and tradition. The Northern Kingdom was subjected to foreign rule, depriving Israelites of freedom and autonomy. Some of the population of these territories was sent into exile. Assyrians also forced their own religion upon the Israelites. Pagan temples and shrines were built throughout the land. Israel descended into a darkness of political and religious oppression. Animosity between the inhabitants of Judah, the southern kingdom and Israelites, the northern kingdom began immediately after this division. This is why the people of Judah hated the people of Israel and referred to them as “dogs,” or “half-breeds.” Isaiah's prophecy rings with the promise of restoration, "The people in darkness have seen a great light." The nation, divided by geographical barriers and ethnic conflict will eventually be healed, and the yoke of its oppression broken. What human divisiveness and pride destroyed, will be eventually healed by God’s intervention.
A Franciscan, Dominican, and a Jesuit were deeply divided and were debating the greatness of their Orders. Suddenly, an apparition of the Holy Family appeared in front of them, with Jesus in a manger and Mary and Joseph praying over him. The Franciscan fell on his face, overcome with awe at the sight of God born in such poverty. The Dominican fell to his knees, adoring the beautiful reflection of the Trinity and the Holy Family. The Jesuit walked up to Joseph, put his arm around his shoulder, and said, “So, have you considered sending him to study in the Ateneo?"
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Saint Paul is speaking to a community that finds itself deeply divided. Unlike in our First Reading, the reason for these divisions was not political or geographical, it was caused by personal allegiances. He warns the Corinthians – and all Christians – against factions: “Be united in mind and judgement.” Baptism, the Sacrament which brings a person into the community of God’s people, became for the Corinthians the very reason for breaking up their community into influential factions. Corinthian Christians claimed loyalty to different leaders, depending upon who baptized and evangelized them. A better educated minority may have liked the preaching of Apollos. The Jewish Christians who are originally from Palestine and Syria boasted of their attachment to Peter. The majority of the faithful, poor freedmen and slaves, were attracted to Paul. How easy it is to take our eyes off Jesus. We rally around earthly teachers God sends to us, especially those who lead us to believe in Christ. But our true leader is Christ himself. There ought to be no division in the family of God. We are the earthly body of Christ and he is the head of that body.
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned” [Isaiah 9:2]. This Isaiah-prophesied oracle came to life in Galilee the moment Jesus started his public ministry. Zebulun and Naphtali was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” because there was a large population of pagans mixed in with the Jews who had only recently begun to resettle a land devastated by earlier wars. Galilee was considered religiously and ethnically suspect or “impure” by the people from Jerusalem. Despite of this, Jesus did not accept the dividing lines of the day. Instead, he chose to begin his ministry in Galilee and chooses Galileans as his closest companions and followers. The disciples were simple working people with no great background. They were nobody special…not rich…not educated…certainly not influential. Persons of no worldly importance whatsoever. Jesus is the great light seen by a people living in darkness, sitting in the shadow of death. By his ministry of inviting them to the Kingdom of God through repentance, Jesus has brought light to them who are living in darkness, thus fulfilling God’s original promise.
Frugivore Tristan woke up in the middle of the night feeling very hungry. He turns on the lights and began eating grapes from a bowl beside his bed. He took a bite from one and saw ants crawling in it; so he shook the ants off and swallowed the sweet berry. He bit into the second grape, found ants, and shook the ants off also. Reasoning that he wouldn’t have any grapes left to eat if he continued, he turns off the lights and just ate the rest of the grapes. Don't be like Tristan. Do not let your eyes get used to darkness!
Jesus Christ appeared in Galilee with the signs of liberation: shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope. He called everyone to turn away from divisions and become a part of the one new community he calls the Kingdom of God. Peter and Andrew responded “at once” by leaving their nets in the sea, while James and John “immediately” left their father to follow Jesus. They walked away from their old lives, and fully embraced the light of Christ. Upon us and upon our gloom, the same light has dawned. If we accept Christ our light, nothing much can go wrong with us. Although we live in Galilee, He is making his glory shine even now in the midst of us.
As we continue praying in this Holy Eucharist, let’s remember that we, too, are called to follow Jesus. We do not pray alone, but belong to a community of believers united by our baptism and are guided by the same light that Isaiah spoke of. May we seek and build the unity that Paul longed for.
📷 Billy McLoughlin
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum