3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Isaiah 8:23-9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Themes of this Sunday's Readings: Faith in God's Promises and Discipleship
From the time of man's fall from grace in the Garden Sanctuary of Eden, God had a Divine Plan to rescue the disgraced children of Adam from sin and death.  A great moving forward of that plan happened when Yahweh called the children of Israel to be His covenant people out of all the nations of the earth.  They would become the source from which He would one day bring forth the woman of Genesis 3:15 whose son was destined to defeat Satan's hold on humanity.  At times, in the turbulence of history, it seemed to the covenant people that God forgot them and His promises of restoration and salvation.  However, our liturgical readings today assure us that God will never abandon His people, and He will never forget His promises.

In the 8th century BC, God told the prophet Isaiah to warn the covenant people of Israel concerning God's coming judgment of exile from the Promised Land for their refusal to repent their many sins, including the sin of idol worship.  He would exile them for their sins just as He exiled Adam and Eve from the Sanctuary of Eden.  However, in the First Reading, God softened the prophecy of judgment with the promise of a future restoration after the covenant people made atonement for their sins in exile.  God promised that restoration would begin in the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali in the Galilee where the Assyrians first conquered and then exiled the covenant people into distant Gentile lands in 732 BC.

In the Gospel Reading, St. Matthew quoted from Isaiah's prophecy in the First Reading when he wrote about Jesus the Messiah's mission to establish the Kingdom of God and to gather in the "lost sheep" of the House of Israel.  Matthew wrote that Jesus began to fulfill Isaiah's prophecy of restoration when He choose to begin His mission in the Galilee, in the same place where the tearing apart of Israel and the "scattering of the sheep" in the exile of the people into Gentile lands began eight centuries earlier.  Jesus is the spiritual "Light" of the people, to guide them back to a restored covenant relationship with God, as prophesied by Isaiah.

Jesus is the "Light" and the "Lord of our salvation" about whom the psalmist joyfully sang in our Responsorial Psalm.  And Jesus is the Savior of all humanity to whom we owe our obedience and loyalty, as St. Paul reminded the Corinthians in the Second Reading.  Jesus calls all people, both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, to an undivided unity of purpose within His Kingdom of the Church in spreading the Gospel message of salvation across the earth to all people in every generation.

Are you prepared to leave behind everything like Saint Peter and the other Apostles and disciples if Jesus calls you to make that life-altering sacrifice today for the sake of the Kingdom?  Jesus doesn't expect all Christians to make that kind of sacrifice, but He does expect us to be willing and to put our love for Him and our obedience to Him above all earthly cares and concerns.  When God comes first, everything else falls into place according to the plan God has for our lives.

The First Reading Isaiah 8:23-9:3 ~ God's Promise of the Restoration of Israel
8:23 First the LORD degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.  Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.  9:1 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  2 You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils.  3 For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.

In the late 11th /early 10th century BC, God made a royal grant (unconditional) covenant with His servant King David of Israel in which He promised a Davidic descendant would rule David's kingdom forever ( 2 Sam 7:8-16; 23:5; Sir 45:25 ).  But as time passed, the Kingdom of Israel became embroiled in a civil war after the death of David's son King Solomon, and the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  The Northern Kingdom was ruled by nine different dynasties, but the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained faithful to the Davidic kings.  All the kings of the Northern Kingdom were bad kings who led the people astray into worshipping false gods.  Some of the kings of Judah were faithful to the covenant with Yahweh while others led the people into sin.  It seemed that God had forgotten His promise to David of an eternal kingdom.

In the Book of Isaiah chapter 7, the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah promised that God would deliver Davidic king Ahaz of the Southern Kingdom of Judah from his enemies (reading on the 4th Sunday of Advent).  But a year later, neither of the kingdoms of Israel or Judah remembered God's merciful intervention and their sins then cause the prophet to condemn them to judgment with the rise of the nation of Assyria as the means of their punishment.

According to Isaiah's prophecy, the first blow was to fall on the Galilee.  In the division of the land of Canaan, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali occupied the lands north and west of the Sea of Galilee (Josh 19:10-16; 32-39).  When the United Monarchy failed after the death of King Solomon, Zebulun and Naphtali became part of the Northern Kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel.  Isaiah's prophecies began to be fulfilled a few years later when in 733-32 BC the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser invaded the Galilee.  The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali became the first Israelites conquered by a foreign power and taken away into exile (2 Kng 15:27-29).  The annals of the Assyrians record that in the final conquest of the Northern Kingdom in the destruction of the capital of Samaria in 722 BC that an additional 27,290 Israelites were forcibly removed and resettled in Assyrian lands to the east.  They were resettled in towns such as Halah and Gozan in the Assyrian heartland of northern Mesopotamia, while others were taken even farther away into the highlands of Media of northwest Iran, never to return (Annals of Sargon II).  The Prophet Isaiah describes that terrible time to come as "darkness" and "death" (Is 8:20-23).

However, it was God's promise through Isaiah that after the judgment of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the ten northern tribes of Israel and later the judgment against the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the Babylonian invasion and exile (586 BC), that there will be a future restoration that will be like a "great light" and a "rising light" : First the LORD degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.  Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.  9:1 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone (Is 8:23-9:1).  The victory will be like Israel's great victory over Midian in the era of the Judges when a small, select number of men chosen by God defeated the forces of a powerful enemy (Judg 7:15-25).

It is significant that Isaiah mentions the great trade route from Egypt into Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, the "seaward road" that went along the Mediterranean coast called the "Way of Horus" by the Egyptians and the "Way of the Sea" or the "Via Maris" (by the Romans) that passed through the Galilee.  It is also significant that Isaiah mentions the Gentiles.  According to Isaiah's prophecy, divine restoration and salvation will not be limited to Israel but will also include the Gentiles who have not previously been called into covenant with Yahweh.  It is this prophecy that will be fulfilled in the mission of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who will begin His ministry proclaiming the coming of the restored Kingdom in the Galilee.  Jesus will begin His restoration of the Kingdom in the very place where the Kingdom of the people of God was first torn asunder!  Jesus is the "Light", as He will proclaim Himself in John 8:12, saying: "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  This restored Kingdom of the new Israel will be the Church of Jesus Christ (CCC 877), the true Davidic King, and as promised it will last forever.  He is the king Isaiah prophesied who is the son born to us, the "Emmanuel" = "God with us" (Is 7:14) whose throne-name is also Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince of Peace and his dominion is over the throne of David and over his kingdom to make it secure and sustain it in fair judgment and integrity from this time onward and forever (Is 9:5-6 NJB).  Jesus will lead a select force of chosen disciples to conquer the enemy that is Satan and to lead mankind to salvation.

Responsorial Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14 ~ A True Disciple believes in the Promises of the Lord
The response is: "The Lord is my light and my salvation."

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?  The LORD is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?
Response:
4 One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his Temple.
Response:
13 I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.  14 Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
Response:

The psalmist celebrates his visit to Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem (verse 4) by proclaiming his joy in his Lord and the confidence that God is his "light", guiding him on the path to "salvation."  As long as he has the Lord as his refuge, he knows that he has nothing to fear (verse 1).  He also professes his confidence that God will save him from spiritual death and that one day he will see the Lord in the heavenly Temple which is the "land of the living" (verse 13).  In the meantime, he encourages others who have faith in God to have courage and be patient as they "wait for Yahweh" in faith for the promised day of salvation (verse 14).

The phrase "The LORD is my light and my salvation" (verse 1) is read by Christians as a connection to Jesus' words spoken in the Jerusalem Temple when He proclaimed: "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).  The risen Christ also fulfills the hope in verse 13 for "the land of the living" since it is heaven that is the true Sanctuary of God that Jesus has made possible for all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior (CCC 1026).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 ~ Disciples must strive for Unity in Christ
10 I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.  11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe's people [household] that there are rivalries among you.  12 I mean that each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."  13 Is "Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? [...]  17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.

St. Paul has received a letter from the Christians of Chloe's household.  She is probably a Christian widow of Corinth in whose house Christians meet to pray, worship and receive the Eucharist.  They tell Paul that there are divisions in the Christian community at Corinth instead of unity.  In response to the letter, Paul appeals to the Christians of Corinth as "brothers/sisters" who are kinsmen and kinswomen in Christ to him and to one another.  The community members are claiming unity with Paul or with Peter (who Paul likes to refer to in his letters using the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic "Kepha", the title "Rock" that Jesus gave Simon-Peter), or the gifted Jewish-Christian orator Apollos (Acts 18:24-28; 1 Cor 3:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13).  St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are related to fellow Christians not because they are members of the same community or because they follow certain Christian teachers who may have baptized them but because Christ died for them and they have been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is Christ who infuses us with His life in Christian baptism and unifies us in the Church which is the "Body of Christ" (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:12-27; etc.).

The Gospel of Matthew 4:12-23 ~ Jesus begins to fulfill the Prophecies of the Prophets by Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and calling His first disciples
12 When he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  13 He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the peoples who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death a light has risen.
17 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 18  As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.  19 He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  20 At once they left their nets and followed him.  21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.  He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.   23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

After Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist, He stayed in Judea and Perea until St. John was arrested, and then He withdrew to the Galilee in the north.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, but He was raised in the Galilean village of Nazareth.

13a  He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea ...   Jesus returned to His boyhood town of Nazareth in the Galilee, but when His own people rejected Him (Lk 4:16-30), He left Nazareth and went to make Capernaum His home and the headquarters of His ministry.  Capernaum was a major port for the fishing industry on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee about 23 miles from Nazareth.  One of the reasons Jesus relocated to Capernaum may have been because of its strategic location near the Via Maris, the major trade route that extended from Egypt, passed through the Galilee, and continued on to other centers of trade in Syria, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia.  It was the "seaward road" mentioned in Isaiah 8:23.  Jesus didn't have to go the people; they came to Him on the Via Maris.

13b in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16 the peoples who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death a light has risen.
Matthew again uses a "fulfillment formula" (see Mt 1:22; 17, 23), this time quoting Isaiah 8:23-9:1 (from our first reading).  Jesus is the "light;" He has risen from His baptism in the Jordan River to become the "rising light" that has come to renew and restore His people in the place where Israel was first torn apart by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC.  Jesus is also the fulfillment of the rest of Isaiah's prophecies: He is the child born to Israel to David's line from "the virgin"; "upon whose shoulder dominion rests;" and He will be called "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace."  He is the child who is "God with us/Emmanuel" prophesied in Isaiah 7:14.

Do not miss the part of Isaiah's prophecy that describes the Galilee as the "land of the Gentiles" (Is 8:23; Mt 4:15).   Gentiles did not begin to populate Israelite territory in the Galilee until the Assyrian invasion and the exile of the Israelite population in the 8th century BC, and their numbers did not begin to be significant until the 2nd century BC.  Jesus' messianic mission is to restore and renew Israel, as promised by the prophets; He has come to find the "lost sheep" of Israel (Ez 34:11-16; Mt 15:24).  It will be the men and women of the new Israel of the New Covenant that will carry the Gospel message of salvation to the Gentiles.  Jesus' ministry in the multi-ethnic Galilee foreshadows the Church's later mission to call the peoples of all nations to salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see Mt 10:6; 15:24; 28:19).

17 From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
This is the official beginning of Jesus' ministry.  His message is the same as St. John the Baptist (Mt 3:1).  The formula saying "from that time on Jesus began," found in 4:17 and 16:21, divides the Gospel into three sections.  The phrase in 4:17 signals the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the proclamation of the Kingdom.

Matthew 4:18-22 ~ Jesus Calls His first Disciples
18  As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.  19 He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  20 At once they left their nets and followed him.  21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.  He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
The first time these men had come in contact with Jesus was when Jesus was still in the south after His baptism on the eastern shore of the Jordan River.  After St. John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Messiah, "the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29), the four men spent time talking with Him.  Then, the day in the Galilee when He called them to become His disciples, they had not only heard St. John's testimony of Jesus but they witnessed Jesus' supernatural powers in their harvest of fish.  It was a demonstration that left little doubt for them about Jesus' true identity (see Jn 1:25-42 and Lk 5:1-11).  The response of these fishermen to Jesus' call when they met Him a second time on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was to leave everything in their former lives and follow Jesus.

The call of the four fishermen to leave their occupation as fishers of fish to become fishers of men as Jesus promised in 4:19 may be a fulfillment of a prophecy by the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah: However, the days will surely come, says the LORD, when it will no longer be said, "As the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites out of Egypt"; but rather, "as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of the north and out of all the countries to which he had banished  them."  I will bring them back to the land which I gave their fathers.  Look, I will send many fishermen, says the LORD, to catch them.  After that, I will send many hunters to hunt them out from every mountain and hill and from the clefts of the rocks (Jer 16:14-16, emphasis added).

23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.
Like other prophets of God before Him, Jesus cured the sick and cast out demons.  His healing miracles were signs that His authority was from God and fulfilled the prophecies of the prophets, like those of the Prophet Isaiah:

In our present age, Jesus continues to call disciples to follow Him and to take up the mission of the Gospel of Salvation, spreading His message of hope and love to the "ends of the earth" (Mt 28:19).  Are you prepared to leave behind everything like Saint Peter and the other Apostles and disciples if He calls you to make that sacrifice today for the sake of the Kingdom?  Jesus doesn't expect all Christians to make that kind of sacrifice, but He does expect us to be willing and to put our love for Him and our obedience to Him above all earthly cares and concerns.

Catechism References:
Isaiah 8:23-9:3 (CCC 243, 522, 555, 702)
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17 (CCC 815-16, 855)
Matthew 4:12-23 (CCC 1720, 1989, 878)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2017