Is 8:23-9:3 / Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14 / 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 / Mt 4:12-23
We need to get some perspective or background to the reading from Isaiah: “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.” The passage seems to promise that the former Northern Kingdom of Israel will know deliverance from the Assyrians. Hezekiah was seeking to reincorporate the northern territories into the kingdom of Judah so as to fully restore the boundaries of the Davidic nation. The Assyrian king had taken Zebulun and Naphtali as the spoils of war back in 735 to 732 BC. If you were to look at a map, the “seaward road” traversed along the Mediterranean coast south of Mount Carmel. The “land west of Jordan” was the province of Gilead. The “District of the Gentiles” was Galilee which had a large non-Israelite population. All these places will be echoed in the Gospel today because in fulfillment of prophecy it is where Jesus begins his public ministry. The true restoration of Israel will not be in terms of a political kingdom but rather a spiritual one, the Church or new Zion.
Look at the text from Isaiah: “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.” No one could ever have imagined how real this text would become. The yoke of sin and death that burdened us is taken up by Christ. The pole of our shoulder becomes the cross upon his. The taskmaster, literally the devil who made us his slaves, has his rod smashed and a people are redeemed, freed from bondage.
The prophecy of Isaiah resonates with our psalm today:
Jesus will put anguish to flight and tell us not to be afraid.
“The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”
Jesus is the LIGHT that dispels the darkness.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
Jesus transforms our sadness into a great rejoicing.
“One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life . . . .”
Jesus makes possible an abundant harvest.
“I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.”
The second reading has Paul admonishing the Corinthians against divisions and jealousies among them. This is an invaluable lesson for us today as many have compromised their faith and we see a divisive polarity both in our nation as citizens and in the body of the Church. There are even religious shepherds who publicly disagree with one another when there should be a profound solidarity in both love and in revealed truth. We need to trust in ourselves less and in the Holy Spirit more.
As I said the Gospel gives us the fulfillment of prophesy where our Lord takes to himself the cry of the now imprisoned John the baptizer: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The first need in the formation of a new nation is the selection of its leaders. While walking along the Sea of Galilee, our Lord calls out to Peter and Andrew who are fishermen. He says: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then he calls the brothers, James and John. The first mission of outreach (then and now) is getting the word out. We read: “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.”
I am reminded of the door to door outreach I did as a young priest along with teams of the laity. Our intention was not to proselytize. We essentially gave an invitation to taste and see. Many distributed small bags with religious goodies, like a rosary, a holy card, a brochure about the parish, and a booklet about the Catholic faith. We targeted the unchurched and fallen away Catholics. We were told to avoid arguments and debates. We were urged to pray with others, even if they were not Catholics. Today, given defections and way too much bigotry and fear, we may have to take up again the early work of proclamation that Jesus and later the apostles pursued. We need to become missionaries for Christ. However, to do that we cannot be ashamed of Christ and treat the saving message as inconsequential. We must witness as the Christians we claim to be by being his people in truth— knowing him in both Word and sacrament— professing him in faith and love.