23Jan Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Is 9:1-3. Isaiah foretells the coming of a Saviour to Galilee of the nations, to the people who walked in darkness. This is perfect background for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

1 Cor 1:10-13,13. Even in the early Church there was disunity and the dangers of rivalry and schism. Paul appeals to his Christians to stay united in Christ.

Mt 4:12-23. Jesus calls for repentance and invites his first followers – the fishermen – to leave everything behind to follow him.


Over the past two generations, many ideological barriers have tumbled down. Among those that still remain, those separating the Christian churches should have been the first to fall. Why does it take our Church leaders so long to take the necessary steps in humble generosity?

Intercessions (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:
That conflicts within our families may be reconciled and set aside.
That conflicts between communities and nations may be settled peacefully, in a spirit of mutual respect.
That we may all realize that our full destiny is not limited to material goods, and may seek our fulfilment in things of the spirit.
That the divided Churches may lead the way in reconciliation.

Breaking Down Barriers (Liam Swords)

The strange thing about the famous Berlin Wall that used to mean the absolute in dividing east from west was that it was built with bricks and mortar. It was the most concrete sign of the “Iron Curtain” that divided Europe for nearly half a century until 1989. In hindsight, it was a tactical mistake on the part of the East Germans to erect the Berlin Wall. While it was there and while one could see and touch it, people thought it should come down. Then down it came one day, to everybody’s surprise at the time. And while thousands were chipping away at it, taking it apart brick by brick, they were dismantling the Iron Curtain, which collapsed soon afterwards.

If only all the other walls which divide humans were built of bricks! Unfortunately, they are built with myths and ideologies, prejudices and fears. Because we don’t see them, we are not always conscious of their existence. They are not easily attacked. It is a slow tortuous process even to make people aware of them. Such is the case with the walls which were erected throughout history to divide religions. When you consider that the Berlin Wall came down after less than fifty years of existence, it is disturbing to reflect that there is another wall dividing Germany and Europe and the West, which has remained intact for more than five-hundred years. It is the wall that divides the Christian world into Protestants and Catholics. There is little indication that that wall is coming down. It is strange that the barrier which divided the atheistic communist world from the God-believing West could disappear so quickly while the one that separates two sets of Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord should remain as solid as ever.

Of course, we observe Church Unity Week. The priest and the parson share a cup of tea on the lawn and even exchange pulpits occasionally. The hierarchies get together to issue joint statements on public issues that concern them. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury exchange visits and presents. Theologians work away at finding points of agreement and removing misunderstandings. One might be forgiven for believing that at least some bricks were being dislodged. But other bricks are being added all the time. The decision of the Anglican Church to ordain women is considered by the Catholic Church to be a further obstacle to unity.

Lest we become too depressed about the prospects of Christian unity, it is worth looking again at what led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain. There was a marvellous surge of human spirit, shown by the people of Leipzig and elsewhere who crowded into the streets in sub-zero temperatures night after night and refused to disperse even when threatened with tanks. This massive expression of the peoples” will changed everything. Something similar will be needed to break down our religious barrier. The problem is not with hierarchies; it is with ordinary people. Apparently, they don’t feel strongly enough or express their will forcefully. Or even that they don’t wish for Christian unity. The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Rome and had a long discussion with the Pope. It was agreed that in a united Christendom Anglicans would accept the Pope as president. When the Archbishop returned to England, a poll was taken among practising Anglicans. The great majority rejected the notion of the Pope as president.

It is easy for us to sit in the pew and think it is time for popes and bishops to get their act together and solve this terrible scandal. The problem may not be there. It may be our indifference or downright hostility. We like to say that our best friend is a Protestant. We may have even stood for his children. We may even have vague aspirations that it would be nice some day if we could all get together again. Five hundred years of separation will not disappear just like that. Our disunity has a long history. It goes back to the earliest days of Christianity when St Paul pleaded with – the Corinthians: “I appeal to you, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, to make up the differences between you, and instead of disagreeing among yourselves, to be united again in your belief and practice.” What St Paul wrote two thousand years ago to the Corinthians, he is writing to us today.

Greatness from an Obscure Place (John Walsh)

“Direct each thought, each effort of our life, so that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory, or keep us from the peace you have promised.” That beautiful opening prayer sums up in short the longing of every human heart for acceptance by God and for enduring peace. The tragedy is that so many people try to satisfy this longing while turning their backs on God, with the result that their search for inner calm and serenity becomes fruitless. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you,” Christ said in his final discourse to his Apostles at the Last Supper as recorded by St John (14:27). Peace, or in Hebrew “Shalom,” was the common word of greeting and farewell among Jewish people. It still is. But in St John’s time the word did not just mean an absence of war, trouble or bitterness. It was an expression of that harmony and union with God and our neighbour that comes from following the wishes of God’s Holy Spirit.

There is a great difference between the peace of the world and the peace which comes from God through the action of Christ. The peace which the world offers is the peace of escape from turmoil and hassle. The peace of Christ is that which enables us to rise above sorrow and suffering, the common lot of all mankind. Indeed, St Paul states the Christ himself “is our peace” (Eph 2:14), meaning that reflection on Christ wounded and nailed to the Cross is enough to melt the hearts of the most bitter opponents, and sustain people in times of adversity. Human pain, suffering and misery, however, are conditions which God never wished for mankind.

Why is it then, you may ask, that God’s wishes are not being put into effect? The answer, in part, lies in the free-will that God has granted us. He respects that free will; he does not impose solutions, or exert force and pressure on people. As with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, God comes to each one of us with an invitation, a request, and then leaves us free to respond. If we reject God’s requests, it can only lead to unhappiness and inner anguish. If, on the other hand, we acquiesce to the wishes of God, then we will become possessed of an inner calm and serenity that nothing will ever disturb. The prayer of Jesus, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,” will be a reality in us.
However, the wonder is that God chose the most unlikely places to give witness before the world to his providential care and concern for those in trouble. In the person of Jesus Christ he was born into a remote and isolated region of the vast Roman empire, one of a race described by the first century pagan historian Tacitus as “a most contemptible mob, a repulsive people.” That was how the cultured Roman regarded the Jews. Nor does the enigma of God’s selection stop there; for he chose the most despised province of the Jewish state, Galilee, in which his Son would grow up. Galilee of the nations, or in other words “heathen Galilee” was how it was described, a land where people walked in darkness. And finally, God chose Nazareth, a village then so obscure that its name was never even once mentioned in the Old Testament.

Quite often in ancient times it was even customary for its inhabitants, when going to Jerusalem for the festivals, to claim they were natives not of Nazareth but of Cana. Bartholomew, the future Apostle, before he had met Jesus, summed up attitudes well when he said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). When the Son of God became man he emptied himself of some of the special attributes of his divine nature, so as to become like us in all things except sin. Such is the mystery of the Incarnation. And side by side with it is the mystery of God’s choice of this most backward place in which the divine Incarnation would unfold. Surely it is true that in the most unexpected circumstances Jesus began to show himself as healer of the sick in body, and light of those whose spirits lived in darkness.

His choice of place in which to deliver a message to people continues to surprise us, – a refuse dump along the cliffs outside the town of Lourdes, the church gable-end in what was poverty stricken Knock, an isolated hollow in the mountainous moorland around Fatima. God is forever confronting us with the unexpected, and as for us, we can only say with the Blessed Virgin, “My soul glorifies the Lord,” or with the writer of the Psalms, “What God is great like our God?’

God of Unity and Peace (Anthony O’Leary)

The opening prayer of the Mass gives a unifying trend to the readings and could serve as a focus around which the homilist could develop various themes. The prayer speaks about the love of God directing us to unity and peace. In the Gospel we see the love of God effective in the life of Jesus particularly in the summary of his ministry as teaching, preaching and healing. Often people get a distorted image of God, as demanding or punishing. Against this type of thought the great authentic picture of God and his attitude towards us is the life and behaviour Of Jesus. There we can seethe love of God in a imaginative way and come to appreciate his truth. Jesus’ life gathered people together; he formed a community. The beginnings of that aspect of him ministry is shown in his call of the disciples. Again the assembly of a group of people who are called to live in faith and trust and love is a sign of God’s effective love breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding hatred and fear that often characterise our relationships with each.

The effective love of God coming in to our world in the person of Jesus enables us to go forth from our isolation and join with others in community. In God there is the communion of the Three Divine Persons and they are bonded together through the Spirit. In the ministry of Jesus that unity is given to us through the Spirit, but is not an automatic gift People have to co-operate with it. In the letter of Paul we see the experience of the early Christians, their difficulties and their strengths. On the human level the communion we are called to” the vocation to love as the Father loves, is impossible; yet the strength of the Word, in the preaching of the Cross and effectiveness of the sacraments shown in baptism encourages us. The dynamic force that binds us together is of God. One might explain that this call to love works itself out in the everyday things of the family, the little church, in the various contacts that we make with people, in the services that we give or receive. Through all of these we are Christ in our world, and we continue to show forth his ministry and in our way we share in the Church as sacrament of salvation and light of the nations.

Another aspect could be taken up from the quotation of the prophecy. For the people of Capernaum Jesus was just anew resident coming to live among them. He did not move far from his home town of Nazareth, where he had been a carpenter. The plan of God was effected in this ordinary event. When Jesus met Peter and his brother by the lake they were at their daily work and his powerful personality touched them in such a mysterious way that they left and became disciples. Many of those cured by him met him in their own towns and villages. The plan of God to save reached them where they were. One might bring out the fact that God touched us where we are in the ordinary events of life and they are all as much of God’s plan as if they were predicted in the Scriptures. The eye of faith needs to search to discern the finger of God.

Different kinds of preparation (Jack McArdle)

Today’s gospel is about Jesus beginning his mission, calling his first disciples, and beginning to travel from place to place, to proclaim that the kingdom of God was close at hand. It marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. John had been arrested, so that was the end of the ministry of John. The gospel tells us that instead of going to Nazareth (in other words, instead of going home), Jesus went to Capernaum. The show was on the road, as it were. As it happened, the prophet had foretold that this would happen. I don’t think that the sayings of the prophets are what influenced Jesus. He was led by the Spirit, and that led him into the fulfilling of all the prophecies. Aren’t they powerful words used by the prophet to describe what happens when Jesus appears among them? “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who lived in the land where death cast its shadow, a light has shone.” Jesus would later refer to himself as the light of the world; and, in commissioning his apostles, he would tell them that they, now, were to be a light to the world.

The message of Jesus is a simple one. “Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” I said earlier that the clearer my goal or vision, the higher will be the level of my energy in bringing that about. Sin is a false goal, an untrue vision, and an empty promise. It is immediate, selfish, and is self-will run riot. It is the result of behaviour that is out of control, through a compulsion, addiction, or selfish whim. It can never satisfy because, outside the kingdom of Cod I am an exile, pining for home. Even in the depth of my sin the kingdom of God is near. I just have to reach out, and Jesus is there.

When I was growing up the word “vocation” was highjacked by priests and religious. It is now being given back to the laity, and more and more laity are actually experiencing themselves as being called. There is nothing dramatic about this. It just means that I don’t just stumble into the Christian way by default, without any clear path or pattern to follow. “I have called you by name; you are mine.” “You didn’t choose me; no, I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that would remain.” If the gospel is now, and I am every person in the gospel, then, through the gospel of today, lam being called.

Response: I mentioned earlier that, when I have a clear goal and vision to follow, my energy level in pursuing that is so much higher. When I was baptised, someone else said my yes for me. I cannot remember having any great enthusiasm about my confirmation, beyond the fact of the new suit, and the money from family and friends. There must come a time, however, when I am prepared to take personal responsibility for my own calling, and say my own personal yes. Because God is totally a God of now (“I am who am”), the only yes in my whole life he’s interested in is my yes of now.

“Turn from your sins, and turn to God, because the kingdom of God is near.” In rugby football, when someone scores a try, that team is then given a conversion kick. In the ancient game of wrestling, when one succeeded in turning the other person right around into the opposite position, that was marked as a point or a conversion. Conversion has to do with crossing-over, with changing of direction, with a shifting of position. It means letting go of one situation or position, and moving to another one. It is basically about change. To live is to change, and to become holy or whole is to have changed often (Newman). The writer of the Psalms is continually calling on the Lord to change his heart. “Create a new heart in me, O Lord, and put a right spirit within me.” Having that attitude towards God is a necessary part of conversion. A constant declaration of my willingness to be changed is a central part of prayer.

There is a story told about Leonardo de Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. He searched far and wide for what he considered to be an ideal model for each person in the painting. He began with a fine-looking young man, full of life, and anchored, and chose him as a perfect model for Jesus. He followed with other models for each of the apostles. Naturally, the work took several years. He left Judas till last, because he was having a problem finding someone who could represent him. Finally, he came across a tramp who was sleeping rough, who had all the appearances of being untrustworthy and, like Judas, would probably sell his soul if it brought him some money. Leonardo approached the man and persuaded him to come to his studio. While the work was in progress, both men came to the same realisation. This man had been in this studio before, representing Jesus. He had gone astray, lost his way, and was now on Skid Row. It was a great shock to de Vinci, and a moment of conversion for the man. When Jesus called on people to turn from their sins, he also asked some of them to follow him. They were to become his pupils, people who would absorb his Spirit, and continue his work, when he went back home to the Father.

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 9:1-3

In the former time God 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 lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

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 Apol’los,” 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.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by 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 proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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 fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John , in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

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