A Reflection by Fr. Peter for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
In our technologically-advanced world, we have seen how the success of companies and markets are dependent upon how often their products are upgraded. For instance, every now and then the media companies produce upgrades for their applications and phones, and alert their customers to download them in order to upgrade them. Similarly, as human beings we desire upgrades whenever they become available. There is that innate urge in us to move up to something better, isn’t there? We are always praying for better days and for things to get better for us. Nobody enjoys living on an endless diet of doom and disaster. No one likes to risk repeating a disappointing or depressing experience. Everyone wants to have happiness and joy, peace and freedom rather than doom and gloom. Happiness and joy, peace and freedom were the great desires of the Israelites too at a time in their history when they were under oppression from the Assyrians. The Israelites dreamt of being redeemed, uplifted – ‘upgraded’ if you will – from their woes. Among the people there was hope and expectation of God’s deliverance.
The 1st Reading (Is 9:1-4) sets the scene in the North Eastern regions of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (later Galilee). Because the North East was the most fertile part of Israel, the Assyrians subjugated it first. By Isaiah’s time, the land had been paganised by incomers, and the minority Jewish population was struggling to hold on to its traditions and the worship of God. Isaiah encouraged the indigenous Jews in their struggles, in their ‘walk in the darkness’, with prophecies of hope for the future and of the appearance of a great light to overcome that darkness. Isaiah foretold the coming of a King, a King infinitely more powerful than all other kings, a King who would lead them from darkness to light, from sadness to gladness, from wretchedness to rejoicing. This was a great Messianic prophecy that went beyond their current situation to the coming of Christ Himself. It is Christ who is the King. It is Christ who is the Light. It is Christ who alone is capable of dispersing darkness and despair.
It is no accident that the prophecy of the 1st Reading is quoted in the Gospel (Mt 4:12-23). St. Matthew links Isaiah’s prophecy (that the people that lived in darkness has seen a great light) directly to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Jesus began His ministry with an urgent call to repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”. His next move was to call his first four disciples, two pairs of brothers (Peter and Andrew, James and John), who were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. In their desire to live in the Light of the Messiah, these men responded promptly to the urgency of His call. We, in common with these apostles, have been called by the Lord. Even before we receive baptism into the family of faith, we are born into our biological families in their geographical and cultural situations. As followers of Christ, we have our families and our jobs to consider in tandem with our Christian vocation. Should we care less for our families and not do our jobs as well as we might, simply because we are Christians first and foremost? Are they supposed to take a back seat? Not at all! Our calling as Christians is to immerse ourselves in the message of light in order to bring the light of Christ with us into our family lives and our work lives. That these men left their nets behind to follow Jesus indicates to us that they purposely shunned every distraction inimical to their calling. In imitating these first four apostles, then, we too ought to leave our nets to follow the Lord; in other words, we ought to dispense with those distractions and values that clash with our Christian calling.
One such distraction is highlighted by St. Paul in the 2nd Reading (1 Cor 1:10-13,17) where he called on the faithful of the Church at Corinth to move out of the darkness of division into the light of Christian unity. In the Church at Corinth there were four parties. The 1st group allied itself with Paul. This group consisted of Gentiles who lived Christianity with an exaggerated sense of freedom, mistakenly thinking that the Gospel of Christian freedom implied freedom to sin rather than the freedom that comes from not sinning. The 2nd group affiliated itself with Apollos. Apollos was a Jewish academic from Alexandria, an eloquent man who had a deep knowledge of the Scriptures. This group comprised intellectuals who were fast turning the fulfilment of Religion into Philosophy. The 3rd group aligned itself with Cephas. ‘Cephas’ in Aramaic (the language that Jesus spoke) means ‘rock’. St. Peter was the ‘rock’ (Mt 16:18) upon whom the Church would be founded. Jews, who sought to teach adherence to specifically Jewish norms, made up this particular group. As legalists, they exalted the Law and belittled the working of grace. The allegiance of the 4th group was to Christ. This group was made up of the peasants and people at the bottom of the social strata, who, in their poverty, laid claim to being the only genuine Christians. Their real fault lay not in saying that they belonged to Christ – which of course they did – but in the intolerance and self-righteousness they displayed in claiming that Christ belonged only to them. Paul invited these four groups to come down from their perches and embrace unity in belief and practice. The same goes for us today. We have just concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. To kick off that week of prayer, Pope Francis stated that: “the community of the baptised is not a mere ‘standing beside one another’, and certainly not a ‘standing against one another’, but wants to become an ever fuller ‘standing together’”. This must be our aim as Christians. Week on week, we come together, bringing with us our rich and varied talents and offering them for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, the Church. ‘Living in God’s light’ means that our skills and strengths have been given to us to enhance the unity that exists among us.
Let us pray: Loving Father, we thank you for sending your Son to be one of us and for letting us be called by Him. Look upon your people with mercy, for we are divided in so many ways; and grant us the spirit of your Christ to make us one in love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. God bless you.