22 January [3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time]
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.
The first and last readings at every Sunday Mass are designed to echo each other, making a theme for the day. It is not always equally successful, but today they are a perfect match.
In the first reading the scene is this: in 732 or 734 B.C. an Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III, captured great numbers and Galileans and brought them into exile and slavery. “King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and…carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29). Nevertheless, the prophet Isaiah is addressing a message of hope to them: “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." Many centuries later Jesus of Nazareth would go to live in that very part of the country where the people had been taken into slavery. Because of the geographical coincidence the words of the ancient prophet came spontaneously to mind. To the people of his own time Jesus too would be a light of hope in dark times. God appeared now to be fulfilling the prophecy made long ago by Isaiah.
Jesus is the bearer of light and joy:
JOY: “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest” (first reading). Isaiah spoke these words in a time of utter depression for the people. Perhaps this is the test of real joy: whether it can cut through thick atmospheres of gloom.
When we say today that something is all “light and joy”, we don’t usually mean it as praise; we usually want to say that it is superficial. We have lost the capacity to have a straight relationship to light and joy: these seem unreal to us. We are more at home in darkness and gloom: they seem more real, more the inside story. Wherever we see something that is healthy we want to dig under it and expose its unsightly roots. Have you ever noticed a great hatred of life in people who have lost their inner direction? I have seen it in philosophers, novelists, journalists…. Many seem to have lost the capacity to take anything at face value. But I know people - and so do you - whose face is not a mask, whose thoughts and emotions are full of light and truth, who know real joy in their lives. Most of them lead ordinary unspectacular lives, but they should be our heroes.
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