Jesus’ New Ministry

By Father Donald Dilger

The readings for Sunday, January 26, 2014, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, are Isaiah 8:23—9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; and Matthew 4:12-23

Isaiah: This reading is explained below in its original setting, the time of Isaiah of Jerusalem, whose ministry lasted from 740-680 B.C.

1 Corinthians: The first of many problems Paul is compelled to resolve is that of serious divisions within this new Christian community. Various Christian missionaries had visited Corinth. Some new Christians claimed loyalty to Paul himself, others to Peter, others to Apollos. Paul’s solution: not to adhere to any human leader, but only to Christ, who cannot be divided.

Matthew: Jesus heard that John had been arrested, and he withdrew northward into Galilee. The correct translation of Matthew’s Greek is this, “When Jesus heard that John had been handed over….” Later in the gospel Matthew uses the same expression for the betrayal of Jesus. It is therefore legitimate to conclude that the Baptizer was also in some way betrayed into the hands of his enemies. We don’t know the details. Up to this time, at least according to the Gospel of John, Jesus had been conducting his own baptismal ministry like that of the Baptizer. After John’s arrest Jesus seems to have ended his baptismal ministry. By this time there was a well-known connection between Jesus and the Baptizer, a connection that could lead also to Jesus’ arrest. That Herod Antipas, who was responsible for John’s arrest and imprisonment, was considering doing away with Jesus is clear from Luke 13:31. Some Pharisees warned Jesus to leave the area, “because Herod wants to kill you.”

Although the reason for Jesus’ withdrawal seems to have been self-preservation, because his time had not yet come, Matthew characteristically finds a lengthy Old Testament quote to justify Jesus’ withdrawal from the Jordan in the south to Galilee in the north. That however was not the original intent of this oracle from Isaiah. The time was 734 B.C. The prophet envisions the fall of the northern kingdoms to the Assyrian superpower. Beyond this he envisions a restoration of those lands (“Galilee — land of Zebulon and Naphtali”) to the rule of a king descended from King David. Matthew gives a new and fuller meaning to Isaiah’s oracle.

Jesus now replaces his baptismal ministry in Judea with a preaching ministry in Galilee. His message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance means a change of mind, change of attitude, followed by a new way of life pleasing to God.

The term “kingdom of heaven” is Matthew’s peculiar way of expressing what others called “the kingdom of God.” The meaning would be the same, but Matthew never defined the kingdom of heaven. We can assemble from his gospel various possible meanings: the intervention of God in the world through his Son; the hereafter with God; the Church.
Jesus imitated John the Baptizer with his own baptismal ministry. He also imitated him in collecting disciples. This is his next move in this Sunday’s Gospel.

He was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He saw two brothers at work. The brothers were working their daily occupation as fishermen.

Jesus invites the brothers to follow him, “And I will make you fishers of humankind.” Grace builds on nature. Trained to gather fish, they will from now on gather followers for Jesus. Matthew notes that “they immediately left their nets and followed him.”

Matthew notes the same immediate response to Jesus’ call of another set of brothers: James and John, sons of Zebedee. Luke tells us in 5:10 that the Zebedees were partners with Simon (and Andrew?). This set of brothers may have been considerably younger, since Matthew writes, “They were in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.” They were probably teenagers. What teenagers would not jump at the chance to go wandering to get away from the work of mending nets? Matthew’s concern was however theological and not what he had learned about teenage work habits. He is writing for his Christian community towards the end of the first Christian century. He is presenting both sets of brothers as eagerly responsive to God’s call as every Christian should be.