22 January 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 8:23—9:3
This Reading prophesies a day when the Messiah shall be a shining Light, a Joy that abounds; a God-Man Who shall rule with justice and peace, and bring an end to oppression. This prophecy is very much a part of this weekend’s Gospel. Formerly and latterly are the two distinctions to keep in mind from this Reading. Formerly there was degradation; latterly there is glorification. Formerly there was anguish, darkness and gloom; latterly there is light, abundant joy and great rejoicing. And, of course, it is the Messiah Who is the cause of Light, Joy, Rejoicing and Glory. The District of the Gentiles is northwestern Galilee which was inhabited by pagans; and Galilee is where Jesus began His Ministry. Nazareth was in Zebulon and Naphtali was east of Zebulon along the Jordan River. The seaward road was the trade route from Damascus to the Mediterranean which passed through Galilee. It is, therefore, Galilee’s glorification that is prophesied in the opening verse. The day of Midian deals with the defeat of Midian found in the Book of Judges. The full story is too lengthy to highlight here but if you’re interested you’ll find it in chapters seven, eight and nine. Our own lives are full of former and latter occurrences: Sadness and joy, disappointments and accomplishments, sickness and health. The emotional and physical roller coaster, however, is temporary. There will come a day when those temporary let downs will cease forever; while the upbeats, although temporary now, will become eternal. Our current journey requires patient endurance, praise and faithfulness to our Lord.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
This could easily be the Scripture passage selected to open the proceedings of a Christian ecumenical dialogue. Yes indeed there are divisions among us: “I belong to the Catholics,” or “I belong to the Eastern Orthodox,” or “I belong to the Lutherans,” or “I belong to the Anglicans,” etc., etc., etc. As evidenced in this Reading and from what we know today, obviously there’s nothing new under the sun. Realistically, there will always be doctrinal differences that Christian faiths will likely never be able to get past or overlook. But let us not forget what the most important line in this Reading is: “I belong to Christ.” And let us pray that Christians never overlook that comforting and unifying fact. In case you’re curious, it is not known who Chloe is but obviously is known to the Corinthians. Paul, however, doesn’t single out Chloe but instead writes, “Chloe’s people.” Most likely he did this so that Chloe as an individual would not become a possible victim of resentment from the divided Corinthians. Those who claim to belong to Paul are the first converts of Corinth and for that reason probably feel some sort of superiority over the converts who jumped on the Christian bandwagon later. Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew who was a convert to Christianity and who also converted many in Corinth after Paul’s departure. Cephas is Saint Peter and those who claim to belong to him most assuredly felt righteous about their decision because Peter, as we all know, was head of the Church. It is not factually known but many scholars have concluded that Peter paid a visit to Corinth shortly before this letter from Saint Paul. There’s really no evidence to suggest that any faction in Corinth claimed to specifically belong to Christ. Paul probably mentions it in this letter as a subtle hint to these rivals that Christ is the true Center of their faith. Paul writes that Christ did not send him to baptize. This doesn’t mean that he never baptized anyone; nor is he in anyway attempting to de-emphasize baptism. Baptism was a common ministerial function of all the apostles. What Paul is expressing here is that Christ made him an apostle specifically to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saint Paul was guided by the Spirit in his writings as well as in his preaching and did not rely on his own human wisdom or intelligence so that the Cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The Latin translates as: “lest the Cross of Christ should be made void.” In other words, never credit anyone’s conversion to human wisdom and know-how; but only to the incomparable Power of God and Christ crucified.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 4:12-23
Saint Matthew begins here by letting his readers know that when Jesus heard John the Baptist had been arrested He withdrew to Galilee. John was now finished with what he was called to do and now it’s time for Jesus to take over. The red carpet has been rolled out and humanity now fervently waits for the Ministry of the King of kings. Saint John Chrysostom, understanding the fulfillment of prophecy here, writes: “Jesus Christ enters more publicly on His mission, and about to occupy the place of His precursor, He chooses Galilee for the first theatre of His ministry, the place assigned by the ancient prophets.” ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ was actually the proper name used in the time of Christ because it was a non-Jewish section of Galilee. Notice that Jesus uses the very same words which were exhorted by Saint John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He may have said this as a comfort for the followers of John who likely had lost hope after his arrest. But Jesus is an assurance to them that the work of the Kingdom goes on because everything John foretold is about to be manifested. Saint Jerome tells us that Christ will not only set out to prove that His ministry is heaven sent, but He will also humble the pride of man; and it is for this reason that He chooses fishermen instead of orators and philosophers. Ancient enemies of Christianity claimed that Christ chose simple, uneducated men to be His apostles because uneducated men could easily be deceived. But as Saint Paul has pointed out, God chose the weak of this world to confound the strong (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27). That is not to say that human wisdom and intelligence is evil. Certainly Pope John Paul II, for example, was extremely intelligent by human standards: he was well-read, educated and fluently spoke several languages. But surely no one can deny that this man’s level of humility afforded him a great deal of heavenly wisdom as well. The battle is between “Pride” and “Humility”. Pride is an attaboy or attagirl, pat yourself on the back arrogance that credits only you for your achievements. Humility understands and embraces the fact that all forms of wisdom and intelligence are gifts from God; or as Christ said: “Without Me you can do nothing” (Saint John 15:5). It may seem a bit strange or unusual to most readers that the first four called by Jesus to apostleship were immediately obedient and dropped everything. You might be inclined to credit it to some sort of divine stare and certainly that’s a possibility; but if you read Saint John’s Gospel (1:35-42) it seems that Peter, Andrew and John were already familiar with Jesus. The closing verse is a summation of Christ’s Ministry in Galilee but in addition to that it is likely intended to create anticipatory emotions leaving us longing for a more detailed account of Christ’s miracles and teachings, in which Saint Matthew will gladly oblige throughout his Gospel.