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Breaking Open the Word

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 

January 22, 2023

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“The Lord is my light and my salvation! Whom should I fear?” (Psalm 27) Our Psalm today summarizes the theme of our readings. Jesus, light of the world, begins His ministry with the call of Andrew and Peter, James, and John. Their response…immediate. They drop everything and follow Christ! A personal encounter with Jesus evokes this response. Have you experienced His radiant light? How have you responded?

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Gospel Explained

For all practical purposes, Jesus should have begun His ministry in Jerusalem, a Roman capital city. In that location, He could have contacted a great number of people in a relatively short period of time. Or, following the lead of His cousin John the Baptizer, Jesus could have chosen a desert location for His mission. Jesus however chose to inaugurate His mission in Galilee, an area also known as the Galilee of the Gentiles because the area was encircled (Galilee comes from the word galil which means circle) by gentile nations.

Taking residence in Capernaum by the sea (Sea of Galilee), Jesus began to preach in the very territories which had been the first to fall to the Assyrians almost eight centuries earlier. It was to Jews living in this spiritual shadowland that the light of Jesus the Messiah was now shining. Matthew understood the meaning of this location of Jesus’ emerging ministry, as being part of God’s saving plan by quoting Isaiah 8:22-9:1:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.

Capernaum was a town on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee. The region of Naphtali lies to the west of the sea; the region of Zebulun lies to the south and west of Naphtali. Galilee was settled by Jews and non- Jews alike. The road along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee was a major trade road for the area since it connected the communities along the Mediterranean Sea to Damascus.

According to Matthew, Jesus formed His ministry by preaching especially in the synagogues, calling disciples to follow Him, and healing. Jesus preached exclusively to the Jews in Galilee, a culturally mixed area, unlike Judea which had a totally Jewish culture. Although He adopted John's message of repentance, He shifted its focal point. The Kingdom was no longer a coming event. It was at hand. And the subject of the message was missing. Jesus did not preach about a coming Messiah.

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Today's Theme

Matthew used verses from Isaiah to transition from the Baptist' ministry to that of Jesus. No longer did people go to John for God's word. No, God's word came to the people in the person of Jesus. Jesus went out to preach, heal, and call others for the Kingdom.

Jesus' initial message created a tension that still survives today. Theologians speak of God's Kingdom as "Here,... but not yet." The Kingdom is present, but not fully realized. God reigns in the world because Christ is present in and through His Church. Until the Second Coming, however, the Kingdom and Christ remain hidden.

As Jesus traveled around Galilee, He actively built a following. Part-time fishermen (like Peter and Andrew, like James and John) would easily take leave of their daily tasks, if the group they joined promised to protect and enhance their way of life. Proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, Jesus quickly amassed an audience.

Jesus also gained an audience by healing. However, Jesus did not wait for the people to come to Him. His message and ministry were too important. He sought out those who were in need of healing.

When Jesus began His ministry, the Kingdom was truly at hand, for He embodied God's reign. By preaching the Good News and healing those in need, Jesus revealed God in the midst of His people. By gathering followers, Jesus called together God's people, His Church, so people could be close to the Father.

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Theme in our Life Today

Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, "Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people." This is how God acts. He is direct and in-your-face; He does the choosing! "Follow Me," Jesus says. He is not offering a doctrine, a theology, or a set of beliefs. He is offering Himself. It is as if He is saying, "Walk in My path, walk in imitation of Me."

Finally, Jesus explains, "I will make you fish for people." Notice the first part of the phrase, "I will make you." This is counter to the culture's prevailing view that we are self-made, that we invent and define our own reality. Culture is selling us lies. It is God who is the author of our life story.  We were created for a specific purpose and given specific gifts and talents to accomplish this purpose. When we choose to give ourselves to God's creative power, He will make us into something far better than we ever could be on our own.

The often-quoted scripture verse, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13) is often misunderstood. I can do all things through Christ when I align my will with God's will. I can do all things that I was created to do and with God's strength I will do them perfectly according to His plans. I cannot do all things, for I was not created to do all things. When things are not going as I hoped, it is time to stop and ask God what I was created to do.

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Prepare for Sunday

The message for us today is to balance the radical call to be a follower of Jesus with the challenge to be “fishers of men.” Creating this balance may require that we change some of the priorities in our life.

Detail the activities of a typical day. What priorities are reflected in my daily schedule? How do I respond when my daily plans are interrupted or must be changed?

Reflect on the example of the first disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Does my schedule give evidence that I put God first in my life? What might I do to better reflect that God is my priority?

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