A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 9)
3nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – January 23, 2005
“A Great Light Has Shone!”
Is 8:23-9:3 // I Cor 1:10-13, 17 // Mt 4:12-23
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Last January 9, the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, the conclusion of Christmas season, I dismantled the crib and other décor with a heavy heart. I complained silently, “Christmas this year is outrageously short and I didn’t have time to savor it.” After packing the holiday stuff, I consoled myself by listening to some nice Christmas music by Perry Como. As he sang “The Christmas Feeling”, the following words of his beautiful song made me pensive and reflective: “How I love that Christmas feeling! How I treasure its friendly glow … Christmas helps you to remember, to do what other folks hold dear. What a blessed place the world would be if we have that Christmas feeling all year!”
A few days later, I came across a family oriented magazine, which contained Denise Mallas’ article, “My Merry Christmas Sign” (cf. FAMILY CIRCLE, December 21, 2004, p. 20-21). The experience and insights she shared gave sense to all my post-holiday blues. Denise writes:
Last year, as I packed up the last of Christmas things, I remembered the little wooden Merry Christmas sign in the living room. I had forgotten it. I went to get it. It still hung on the wall. I reached for it, then slowly drew my arm back. My heart told me to leave it there. I just wasn’t ready to close Christmas for the year yet. I wanted that little piece of it to remain with my family just a while longer … There is something about the Christmas season that none of us really wants to give up. We don’t want to pack away that warm feeling of loving our fellow man. We want to keep that giving spirit in our hearts. We want to love being alive and sharing our lives with others. We want to keep our families close to us. We want our friends to keep knowing how much we care. My little sign … it will still be there on the wall. I can’t help but smile each time I walk by. It will stay there, daily reminding me that the spirit of loving each other does not end with the Christmas season but should happen each and every day. You see… LOVE IS ALWAYS IN SEASON.
The idea that the spirit of Christmas is not over, but rather, in a continual process of realization in our lives, is what this Sunday’s liturgy is trying to communicate. The fullest meaning of the Christmas feast we celebrated a few weeks ago is this: Jesus, the Son of God, came to be the light of the world. With his saving work, the darkness of sin and death has vanished. The reign of God is at hand. United with Christ, his disciples are called for a special mission to the nations – to spread the Good News that the great light of liberation has dawned. Indeed, Christmas is the festival of the great light, Jesus Christ.
Today’s Gospel passage (Mt 4:12-23) is to be read against the backdrop of Isaiah’s prophetic consolation (Is 8:23-9:3). The classic Old Testament passage about the great light shining in the land of darkness is used as part of the first reading at the Christmas midnight Mass (cf. Is 9:1-6). In this fascinating oracle, we hear the courageous Isaiah offering words of consolation to a devastated nation: “The Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles … The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Is 8:23-9:1). In 734 B.C. the Assyrians, led by Tigleth-Pileser III, conquered the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Since the region of Zebulun and Naphtali was farthest north and closest to Assyria, this area was the first in Israel to experience the destroying wrath of the invaders. This Galilean territory was then detached from the kingdom of Israel and erected into an Assyrian province. The prophet Isaiah, however, knew that God would not forget his people and so confidently assured those who were in exile and the remnants who remained in their devastated land, as slaves of the oppressors, that a restoration was to come. He expressed poetically the joy of future liberation as a great light shining on the land of gloom.
What Isaiah uttered as prophecy became full reality in Jesus of Nazareth. Hearing that John the Baptist had been arrested, Jesus withdrew from the Judean region and went back to the Gentile-permeated Galilee. In New Testament times, Galilee was at least half Gentile in population, half pagan in cult, and bilingual (using Greek and Aramaic). Leaving his hometown Nazareth, Jesus settled in the strategically situated lakeside town of Capernaum, on the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali. The location of the commercially prosperous Capernaum was ideal for reaching a larger audience, both Jews and foreigners. In fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah, Galilee would be the first to hear of Yahweh’s salvation … its people would be the first to experience the public ministry of the great light, Jesus Christ.
In his Gospel account, Matthew declared that Jesus’ return to Galilee is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in the darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (Mt 4:15-16). The expression, “the people who sit in the darkness” originally referred to the oppressed Israelites, but as used here by Matthew, it also included the Gentiles. The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington comments: “What better place for Jesus to begin his mission, therefore, than the place that had first been given the promise of the light and had become as Galilee of the Gentiles … By the reference to the Galilee of the Gentiles the good news preached by Jesus, in distinction from that of John the Baptist, obtains a universal dimension from the beginning.” The Gospel of salvation is for everyone of every time and place. In Jesus, the great light of liberation has dawned over the suffering people of all nations. Aelred Rosser remarks: “With the coming of Christ, a new age dawned over the world. And Christ brings more than a new age; he ushers in the final age, for in the mystery of incarnation heaven and earth are reconciled, the redemption of humankind is accomplished, death has been conquered and the reign of justice and peace has been established. Now all we need to do is to make these realities visible by following in the footsteps of Jesus.”
After the death of John the Baptist and with Jesus’ return to the “Galilee of the Gentiles”, the latter inaugurated his public ministry by preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). This power-packed message summarizes the substance of Jesus’ preaching. Daniel Harrington explains: “The first part of the message contains the command calling for a complete conversion and orientation of life. The second part supplies the reason for the command: the definitive display of God’s power and judgment and the establishment of his rule over all creation are near. In fact, as we see, the ultimate victory of God is being inaugurated in the ministry of his Son.”
Jesus’ ministry to the kingdom of heaven involves calling disciples to share in his life-giving mission as “light to the nations” (Is 42:6). The inchoative messianic mission in Galilee needed to grow in order that God’s universal plan of salvation be achieved. The exegete, Eugene Maly asserts that the call of the first disciples (Mt 4:18-22) is a participation in Isaiah’s prophecy about the “great light”. Reflecting on the vocation theme, he observes: “The very simplicity of the call narrative is dramatic. Jesus sees the men and calls them; they abandon all and follow him. There is no questioning, no hesitation on the part of Jesus or the men. Matthew had a purpose in such a presentation. On the part of Jesus, there is absolute authority. On the part of the men, there is absolute trust and the surrender of faith. And throughout his Gospel Matthew stresses both Jesus’ authority and the disciples’ faith. Both are present from the beginning. The Church seems to suggest here that vocation and response are part of the fulfillment of the prophetic announcement of a great light and of rejoicing. And it is that because through the miracle of vocation to ministry, these men are rendered worthy of bringing the gospel, the good news, to all people. As the light of the world (Mt 5:14), they share in the great light, who is Jesus alone.”
The last verse in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is a summary report of Jesus’ ministry: “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Mt 4:23). The Gospel of the kingdom is preached and incipiently realized by Jesus’ ministries of word (“teaching”) and deed (“healing”). The Christian disciples of today are urgently called to share in these life-giving ministries of Jesus. It is a way of making the light of Christ shine on all peoples of the world. Eugene Maly remarks: “Nothing can take away from the fulfillment that Jesus brought. Unfortunately we Christians do not let the fullness of his light shine upon us. We attempt to make lesser lights the great light and wonder why we see so dimly.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Are we intent on keeping the spirit and joy of Christmas alive through the year? Do we believe that the love Jesus, the light of the world, brought to us in the mystery of the incarnation and the entire paschal mystery is always in season?
B. How do we concretely participate in the mission of Jesus, the great light, to dispel the darkness of sin and death from the people dwelling in the land of gloom?
C. What is our vocation story? Do we see it as a participation in the prophetic announcement of a great light and of rejoicing?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Commission Francophone Cistersienne, “La nuit, le jour” [Paris: Desclee-Cerf, 1973] 29 Fiche de Chant P LH 49 // Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, vol. 4, p. 35)
Leader: You came, Lord, into our night,
to turn our ways towards the dawn;
your way however remains hidden,
only the Spirit uncovers for us your passage.
To lead us to light
you took up a body
in the human shadow into which you come.
Many would want to see and understand:
will they recognize your light?
We say to them: “See the grain that dies;
no eye sees it,
but our hearts can divine in the shared bread his presence.”
Then we carry to you, like a cry,
the hope of today’s men and women;
ripen the time, hurry the day,
and may it rise on earth, Your kingdom.
Assembly: The people who sit in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light; on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” (Mt 4:16)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Continue your ministry of prayer for the victims of natural and man-made calamities in local communities and abroad. Upon the people of Southern Asia who are literally dwelling in “a land overshadowed by death”, let the light of Christ shine through moral, spiritual and material aid.
B. ACTION PLAN: To celebrate the compassionate divine love revealed in Jesus, the great light and the source of our vocation as light givers, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 9): a weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323