Opening reflection (from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): St. Paul urges the Corinthians to “be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” without any divisions among them. For there is no more irresistible witness to the truth of the Gospel than such unity in charity. No wonder that the first thing that Jesus does when He moves to Capernaum is seek out companions. In the unity that Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John experience through their friendship with Christ, they become certain that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Thanks to our communion in Christ, “anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.” To us enshrouded in the “land of gloom,” Jesus Christ beckons, “Come after Me.”
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation – the one used in U.S. Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/nab/012311.shtml)
First Reading: Isaiah 8:23-9:3 (9:1-4, Revised Standard Version)
In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation,
thou hast increased its joy;
they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou hast broken as on the day of Midian.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the four among Jacob’s 12 sons who were born to concubines (specifically, servants given to Jacob by his wives Leah and Rachel to bear sons in their stead). That implied a certain second-class standing among the 12 tribes of Israel. So did their allotment of land in Canaan – toward the northern end of the Holy Land.
And when the Assyrian Empire invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 700s BC – the time when Isaiah preached in the Southern Kingdom of Judah – the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the first to be overrun. Many of its people were deported and replaced with foreigners from other parts of Assyria. Though more Jews moved in after the decades of Israel’s exile, “Galilee of the Gentiles” remained far removed from the center of attention.
But it would not always be so, Isaiah foretold. For this passage – quoted in its Septuagint version in today’s Gospel reading – foretells that the “great light” – the Messiah Himself – would shine in this remote corner of the Promised Land. He would grow up in Nazareth, a town in Zebulun, and He would adopt Capernaum in Naphtali as His home base. All but one of His original 12 disciples would be Galileans. And this small band, like the 300 handpicked men of Gideon (Judges 8-9), would be the Lord’s instruments in routing the powerful enemy – sin, death and the devil himself – and ending his oppressive rule.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This reading helps mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – and a most appropriate reading it is. Here Paul, writing from Ephesus, has to remonstrate with the Corinthian church he helped found about its division into factions. Rather than be one people with “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism,” Corinth had split into four factions.
Some identified themselves with Paul, but others declared their allegiance to Peter (here called by his Aramaic name Cephas). Still others were impressed by Apollos, a converted Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, who came after Paul and bore much good fruit himself through his preaching. (In fact, Apollos was with Paul in Ephesus as this letter was written.) And others, possibly desiring to avoid being attached to any particular human preacher, said they simply followed Christ.
Does this not sound just like our day, with more than 33,000 “factions” that each call themselves by the name of our Lord? Paul would have none of it. He even rejects being the “leader” of a “faction,” saying in blunt language: “Was Paul crucified for you?” Division and rivalry are fruits of our selfish, sinful nature. Paul, his follower Apollos and our first pope, Peter, all turned away their faces from such thinking. They all “belonged to Christ.” And Christ prayed that His Church would be, as Paul said, “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Let us work for that unity among ourselves!
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
A reading from the holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to You, Lord.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: The Baptist has been arrested for daring to criticize Herod the Great’s son Herod Antipas for taking his brother’s wife for his own. Jesus, having undergone His temptation in the desert after John baptized Him, had lingered in Judea (a time recorded in the first chapters of St. John’s Gospel). Now John has decidedly “decreased,” as the Baptist himself predicted. The time for the Messiah to “increase” had arrived.
And so Jesus returns to Galilee to fulfill the second half of the prophecy in our first reading. After visiting Nazareth in Zebulun one last time (and being driven out, as we read elsewhere), He chooses Capernaum, a town in Naphtali on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to be as close to a “home” as He would have while He remained on earth.
The light of Christ, as predicted, would soon fill all Galilee with His physical healing and message of spiritual healing for those who repented of their sins. As He begins, He definitively calls His first disciples: the two pairs of fishermen brothers, James and John bar-Zebedee and Andrew and Simon Peter. Did they join Jesus sight unseen? Not quite. We know from the other Gospel accounts that Andrew and John had been the Baptist’s disciples and met Jesus at the Baptist’s invitation; then they introduced their brothers. They quite likely attended the wedding at Cana with Jesus before He definitively called them to follow Him. And it would not be until the first miracle catch of fish that Peter – already renamed by Jesus – would fully commit himself.
All these events fit into the context of today’s Gospel, however. Matthew summarizes what other Gospel writers would describe in greater detail. The moment we now remember as the Third Mystery of Light in the Rosary has arrived: the proclamation of the Kingdom. Jesus has come to break the oppressor’s rod of sin. The next three years would be such as Israel had never seen.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be