Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (26 January 2020)

Isa 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13,17; Matt 4:12-23

The readings this week highlight how things will change if we surrender ourselves to God. When we allow Him to direct and rule our lives we will encounter dramatic changes within us, and then, even what seems impossible becomes a reality.
The first reading is taken from Isaiah and he prophesies the reversal of fortune that awaits the lands of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. These lands, situated in the North of Israel near the Sea of Galilee had been among the first to be overrun when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom. But amidst the gloom of that defeat, Isaiah was able to see the reversal that would one day come. Then the darkness would give way to light; and grief to gladness. And God will destroy the burden of death and defeat. To Isaiah’s audience these words must have seemed fantastical. But with the perspective of history and time, we know that he had been absolutely correct. Indeed God did reverse their sorry state as we see in the Gospel. And what a reversal, to transform a degraded land into the home base of God among us!
Matthew picks this up in the Gospel. Jesus though born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem in the south, had settled in Nazareth in the north after the Holy Family returned from Egypt. When Jesus began His public ministry, He settled in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee and there He preached and healed many. This was precisely where the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun had been. Matthew identifies this as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy. But we see the same message of God reversing lives even more starkly in the next part of the Gospel reading, which concerns the famous calling of the first disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John. Two pairs of brothers, well settled in the principal trade of the area – fishing, encounter Jesus. No one who encountered Jesus was left unmoved and so it is with these brothers. Jesus challenged them to break free of their comfort zones: to leave their livelihood as fishermen and to become fishers of men. And they went. The scale of their transformation is unimaginable but they too went from darkness to light; from the yoke of their trade to the liberation of living as children of God.
St Paul in the second reading speaks of yet another type of reversal. Conscious of the cult of personality overtaking God’s young church, he urged believers to remain focused on the unity of God. Salvation comes from Christ alone and He taught just one truth. There was no basis at all for them to argue over which particular faction of the Church they wanted to belong to. This too called for a reversal from the darkness of pride and self-centeredness to the light of a life lived for God.
Isaiah speaks of the yoke that weighs down on us when we don’t live for God. Sadly, we are so focused on the values of this world that we just fail to see this. God calls us to live as His children. But this entails a dramatic change of our values and of all that we tend to hold dear. It calls for a viewpoint that focuses on living for eternity with God instead of living for the present and for ourselves. It is only when we reorient our bearings that we will experience the reversal from darkness to light.
Some points for reflection as you read the passages:

  1. What do you think Isaiah is referring to when he speaks of the yoke that weighs on the shoulders of the people? How does Jesus remove this burden?
  2. What accounted for the disunity in the early Church? What was Paul’s main counter to this? How can you apply this to disagreements that you may face?
  3. What would life have been like for Peter if he had declined Christ’s call? How does this affect your view on a call to serve in Church that you may be facing?