Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 4: 12-23 January 23, 2011
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he left Nazareth and went to Capernaum. Herod Antipas was ruler of this territory, Galilee of the Gentiles, regarded as a region of God-forsaken pagan ways. It is here that Jesus goes to take up what is now the dangerous mission of John, to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.
Jesus then proceeds to call Peter, Andrew, James and his brother John to follow him as disciples. Through Jesus, what has been spoken through the prophet Isaiah is at last fulfilled: “. . . the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has risen.”
Matthew graphically portrays the unredeemed human condition: John, victim of the injustice of arrest and subsequent execution; people sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Hearers of Matthew’s gospel already know that Jesus and many who became his disciples soon would meet the same kind of injustice and violent death as John.
Graham Greene, in his novel The Power and the Glory, portrays the hopelessly fallen human condition in a similarly graphic way through the thoughts of the main character: “The knowledge of the world lay in her like the dark explicable spot in an x-ray photograph; he longed — with a breathless feeling in the beast — to save her, but he knew the surgeon’s decision — the ill was incurable.”
The good news of Christian faith is that no experience of our human condition, however “incurable” it may seem, even death, is hopeless. The mission of Jesus is to proclaim that God loves us and wants to give himself to us if we but turn to accept him. Jesus, “God with us,” is the incarnation of this supreme love — light for people who sit in darkness, life in a land overshadowed by death.
The gospel today also reminds us that Jesus calls each of us by name to follow him: our ultimate happiness depends upon our response. No human project or love, however great, may be preferred (” They left their boat and their father and followed him”).
In this Sunday’s liturgy we might pray for the gift of faith to follow Jesus into the life of God’s love. This is the faith that overcomes the world of violence, darkness and death. And with the gift of sharing Christ’s faith comes a peace that surpasses understanding.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.