The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – 26 January 2020
Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Ps 26:1.4.13-14; 1 Cor 1:10-13.17; Matt 4:12-23
Theme: The people that lived in darkness have seen a great light

Jesus, on hearing of the arrest of John the Baptist, goes back to Nazareth in Galilee. “The era of John has been completed” (Mullins, 128). Then Jesus leaves Nazareth to settle in Capernaum, “a lakeside town on the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali.” It is interesting to read today’s readings through the prism of borders. Borders are straddling places, they are places of negotiation, liminal places, where potential and possibilities can be realized. They can also be places of conflict. We see that in many of the world conflicts today.

The borders of Zebulon stretch from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. Moses conferred the blessing of prosperity on Zebulon’s maritime expeditions so that people could “taste the riches of the seas and the treasures hidden in the sands” (Deut 33:19). Naphtali borders the Jordan River, west of the Sea of Galilee. This territory was famous for the richness and fertility of the land, a reminder of the blessing given by Moses: “Naphtali, sated with favours, filled with the blessing of the Lord” (Deut 33:23). Matthew addresses both territories directly in today’s gospel:
“Land of Zebulon! Land of Naphtali!
Way of the sea on the far side of Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!” (Matt 4:15)

The latter address to “Galilee of the nations” reminds us, as readers that this territory was annexed by Assyria in 734 B.C. and many Assyrians settled there. Matthew’s compressed form of the first reading signals the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the person of Jesus. He speaks to the humbled lands of Zebulon and Naphtali:
“The people that walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
On those who live in a land of deep shadow
A light has shone.” (Matt 4:16)

“Now the light not only dawns, but shines out in their area. New beginnings are in store and they are emanating from Galilee of the Gentiles, where the chosen people had lived among the pagans” (Mullins, 131). Here we see again the boundary of darkness and light opening up the potential for the preaching ministry of Jesus: “From that moment Jesus began his preaching with the message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’” (4:17).

The border theme continues with Jesus “walking by the Sea of Galilee” and calling “two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew; they were making a cast in the lake with their net, for they were fishermen” (4:18). The call takes place in the in-between-place, the liminal space between land and sea. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. The new era has begun!

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] What has been your experience of border places in your life? Were they places that opened up possibilities or sources of conflict or in-between-places that offered a new perspective on life? [2] Reflect and pray on the many border places experiencing conflict today.

Bibliography: Montague, G. T. Companion God: A Cross-Cultural Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (New York: 1990), Mullins, M. The Gospel of Matthew (Dublin: 2007)

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