THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
USCCB Link to all three readings
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled:
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.
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew,
casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen.
He said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers,
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.
He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father
and followed him.
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.
Some explanation is called for in the Lectionary’s selection of this Gospel text. Last Sunday’s text from John’s Gospel focused upon the Baptism of Jesus. The third chapter of Matthew was not included in the Sunday lectionary of Year A because it also recounts the Baptism of Jesus. This Sunday we return to St. Matthew’s narrative with Chapter 4. However, all four Gospels agree that after the baptism of Jesus he went into the desert where he was tempted. In Matthew, the temptation narrative is found in 4: 1-11, directly after his baptism, and for many centuries the Church has assigned the temptation of Christ text to the First Sunday of Lent. In 2017 the Matthean temptation narrative will be observed on March 4-5.
Thus, the Sunday narrative picks up at Matthew 4:12, after a string of major events: the Baptism of Jesus, the Temptation of Jesus, and as Matthew reports here, the arrest of John the Baptist. R.T. France comments that Herod Antipas viewed John the Baptist’s ministry as one with considerable populist political overtones, and it would not have been safe for one so closely identified with John to remain highly visible, particularly around his home town Nazareth. The word “withdrew” in v. 12 translates from the Greek “escaped” or “got away safely.” (France, p. 140)
Jesus would return to Nazareth only rarely for the rest of his life; his new “territory” would be Galilee, and his base city would be Capernaum, a thriving seaport with a Roman administration center and a population of about 10,000. The population was primarily Jewish; Gentiles lived in Tiberius, further down the shoreline. While Jesus would achieve a greater measure of safety here, Matthew’s text emphasizes two other points of significance in the move. The first is harmony with the text of Isaiah 8:23-9:6. Matthew provides only the first two lines of the prophesy in his Gospel text, but it is enough to make his point that the gloom of desolation in Galilee would be replaced by the birth of a child who would be called “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
In truth, the literary arrangement of Matthew leads the reader to understand that “the great light” of which Isaiah speaks is Jesus. For after the prophesy Matthew continues, “From that time on, Jesus began to preach….” Of the four Gospels, Matthew is by far the most emphatic in his theology that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scripture. There will be many occasions in the weeks ahead where the phrases “according to the Scriptures” or “that Scripture may be fulfilled” or “as is written” will appear immediately before or after a word or deed from Jesus.
With this in mind, the second critical intent of Matthew is the introduction of the “the public ministry” of Jesus. All the Gospels “introduce” the public Jesus in some fashion; for example, Mark writes “after John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” The language of Jesus In Mark is very similar to this Sunday’s, but Matthew, unlike Mark, provides the Isaiah-Galilee setting. It is by comparing the Gospels (an analysis known as “redaction criticism”) that it is possible to determine the specific theological intent of each evangelist. Matthew highlights Galilee at the beginning of the public ministry so that he can connect Jesus’ ministry with the work of the infant Church at the end of the Gospel. In Matthew 28 Jesus orders the eleven disciples to a mountaintop in Galilee, where he gives the “great commissioning” to preach and baptize universally till the end of time.
France adds an insightful observation here, that with the beginning of the public ministry, Jesus will no longer minister alone but with what he calls “the messianic community” of those who, like Jesus, will give up everything and engage in the ministry of “fishing for men.” The recruiting of the twelve in Matthew’s Gospel is an elongated process, but here at the beginning the disciples Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John are mentioned immediately as four who would be with him from the beginning. The idea of an “inner core” will be a feature of this Gospel, most notably when Jesus designates Peter as the rock of his new kingdom. It is little wonder that for much of the Church’s history the Gospel of Matthew was called “the Gospel of the Church.”