To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13,17; Mt 4:12-23
Zebulun and Naphtali were
the first provinces of the Northern kingdom that were captured when the
Assyrians took Israel into exile. This is the humiliation that Isaiah speaks
about in the first reading of today. However, that is now past. There will now be
a reversal brought about by God through his Messianic king, and these will be
the first to experience it.
Darkness has turned into
light and for Matthew this prophecy of Isaiah is seen as being fulfilled in the
ministry of Jesus in Galilee. This ministry in Matthew begins after the arrest
of John the Baptist. The choice of location for the beginning of the ministry
is Capernaum and in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned in the
first reading and serves as a setting for the fifth formula quotation in the
Gospel. The movement from darkness to light that Isaiah prophesied comes about
in Matthew through a response to Jesus’ call to repentance. It is important to
understand the placement of the words by Matthew. Though Matthew places the
imperative (Repent) before the indicative (for the kingdom of heaven has come
near), it must be understood that the basis or reason for repentance is that
the kingdom has come near. Something has happened or taken place and therefore
something needs to be done. The text does not say that the kingdom will come
after repentance rather because the kingdom has indeed come and in the person
and ministry of Jesus, people should repent.
The word “repentance” has
sometimes been translated to mean “be sorry”, but nowhere in the Gospels does
Jesus ask anyone to be sorry for their sins. Yet, he constantly calls people to
repentance. The English word “repent” is a translation of the Greek
metanoeô which literally means “change
one’s mind” – quite like the man who came home one day and told his wife,
“Honey, I’ve changed my mind.” “Thank God,” said his wife, “I hope the new one
will function better.” Repentance therefore is taking out that small mind which
engages in stereotyping and dwelling on negatives and replacing it with a mind
that is open and flexible and filled with the positive of God’s unconditional
love. This openness is the result of having realized that the kingdom has
indeed come near. The coming of the kingdom means that God’s unconditional
love, mercy, forgiveness, pardon and acceptance have all been given to us
freely in Jesus. This means we can do nothing to earn this love; all we have to
do is receive it with gratitude and in humility.
How is this repentance
shown in action? Paul gives the answer to this question in the second reading
of today when he calls the Corinthians and us to be united. Differences must be
made up and disagreements must be ironed out. Each Christian individually and
all Christians collectively belong only to Christ and to no one else. To heal
the wounds of the divided body of Christ, right words and slogans are certainly
necessary but they are by no means sufficient. Primarily we need the right
attitudes which spring from a recognition that we all belong to Christ.
While unity does not mean
uniformity, the legitimate expression of diversity should never lead to
division, since Christ is not divided but one. This is the Christ whom Paul
preached and wants each of us to continue to preach. His preaching was not in
philosophical terms or treatises but in language that conveyed that all that
was received was through grace.
It was this grace and
free choice of God that led Jesus to call the first four disciples. Jesus takes
the initiative here. He comes to the brothers Simon and Andrew, he sees them
and he calls them. He does the same with James and John. They respond
generously to his call which is both a command and promise. The command is to
follow the person of Jesus and not merely a value or an ideal. This indicates
that following Jesus demands first of all total dedication to him.
The summary statement
which concludes the Gospel reading serves as a summary of all three readings.
Like Jesus, the task of the Christian who decides to follow him will be that of
making people whole. Through this action every Christian is called to proclaim
the Good News that God’s love, mercy, pardon and forgiveness are indeed a
reality today. The Kingdom has come.