Thursday, January 20, 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A): Jesus Settles in Capernaum, Galilee - St. Fabian & St. Sebastian, martyrs


Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "A") - January 23, 2011 'United in the Same Mind and Same Purpose' [Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4 [Psalm 27]; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Matthew 4:12-23]

Though people idealize the early Church, Paul's letters to the Corinthians show that rivalries were a reality early on ("I belong to Paul, ... Apollos, ... Cephas, Christ").

As the chapters of Corinthians succeed one another, we discover people who thought themselves strong and enlightened. They looked down on the unenlightened others, whom they called weak. All confessed that God raised Jesus from death, but Paul felt they denied that truth by the way they lived.

Paul begged for unity, adapting Jesus' gospel message of repentance to the circumstances of the Church of Corinth. He tried to get people to see that it is unity, not division that Christ wishes for His followers. It is an apt message today, as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity draws to a close.

Today, Catholic Christians need to pray and work not only for unity with Christians of other denominations. They need also to strive 'to be united in the same mind and same purpose' in order to reconcile partisans of one or another viewpoint within the Church.

The early chapters of Matthew's gospel show that what Jesus did--choosing the Galilean city of Capernaum as home base during His early ministry--realized Old Testament hopes. Jesus' message ("Repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near") echoes John the Baptist's summons (cf. Matthew 3:2).

Matthew shows that, despite the different approaches of John and Jesus, there is consistency in God's message. It is a harmony of viewpoint that extends from the era of the early Church into our own day.

Still, there was something utterly new in Jesus' approach. This appears in the dynamic way He drew followers to leave possessions, trades (the boats and fishing tackle of Simon and Andrew) and family (the sons of Zebedee leave their father). Set free, these disciples entered onto the path of the Kingdom.

In Jesus' day, young people sought out rabbis to learn from them the ways of God. By contrast, Jesus--more than a rabbi, though He was a teacher--took the initiative in calling followers to the Kingdom path.

Matthew illustrated his conviction that Jesus was a leader powerful in word and deed. Furthermore, Jesus' deeds were fully consistent with the message He addressed to each man, woman or child who would become His disciples.

Matthew illustrated this by means of a summary description of Jesus' activity that he used to frame the early stages of Jesus' career (cf. Matthew 4:23; 9:35). The healings and cures were visible expressions in people's lives of God's gift to them of the Kingdom in the preaching of Jesus, a proclamation that continues today in the Church of Christ.

Zebulun, Naphtali and the Coastal Highway on the west side of the Jordan River, a region known as 'Galilee of the Gentiles', had been humiliated by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III in 733 BC (2 Kings 15:29).

In place of this lowly state, God pledged glorification. Humiliation-glorification is only one of several pairs of contrasts intertwined within Isaiah's prophetic word. Darkness will give way to light, sadness to joy and oppression to victory.

Harvest time and the sharing of the spoils are periods of celebration. The work that went into cultivating the crop have borne fruit. The sacrifices and discipline of battle have won the victory. People deserve to relax and enjoy the peace and plenty that have come.

In salvation-history, the victory of Gideon against Midian (Judges 7:15-25) featured a small contingent battling against mighty forces. Their triumph, with soldiers from Naphtali, had become proverbial of what Israel could do with God's blessing.

It became an symbol of the victory Jesus won through His proclamation of the Kingdom and gathering the nucleus of His future Church.

Early Christians saw in Jesus the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy concerning Zebulun and Napthali ('the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness -- on them a light has shined').

For He embodied their light, their joy and their victory. Jesus hardly did so as the leader of a warring army triumphing over Israel's enemies. He did so by the simple gesture of settling down--as a working man--in a Galilean city and there beginning to proclaim Good News from God.

* * * * * *
Almighty ever-living God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works.  Through our Lord.
* * * * * *


St. Fabian (left) and St. Sebastian, martyrs

O God, glory of your Priests, grant, we pray, that, helped by the intercession of Saint Fabian, we may advance in our sharing of the same faith as his, and in worthy service.  Through our Lord. 


Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude, so that, taught by the glorious example of your Martyr Saint Sebastian, we may learn to obey you rather than men.  Through our Lord.


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