Reading 1: Is 8:23—9:3
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14
Reading 2: 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17
Gospel: MT 4:12-23
In her essay, “Why We Can’t Fix Twitter,” Emily Parker argues that social media sites are going to struggle to fix the problem of superficial discussions, fake news, and trolls because, at the end of the day, it is what we want. Discovering what is true and having substantive discussions requires time and attention. It means slow and careful conversations. While we say we want this, tweets and short posts are easier to read and write. We get excited less by having a friend or two comment on something and more by it going viral. This problem – preferring the immediate, easy, comfortable, and pleasing over the true, good, real, and beautiful – is reflected in the readings for this third Sunday of ordinary time.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is speaking to a community that finds itself divided. Drawn from the margins of social life, these people sought a recognition that the broader society did not provide. Thus, in church, they grasped at human honor that builds one’s self up by putting others down. They boasted about who baptized them, ranking Paul ahead of Apollos in order to say, “I am better than you.” They even manipulate the truth – “I belong to Christ” – to set themselves apart, making Christ a weapon to be used against others. Just like us today, we are too often willing to trade the glory of the gospel for something as menial as human accolades. No wonder Paul seems exasperated by these divisions,
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
The same could probably be said of those who first heard Isaiah’s words. In the wake of the dominance of the Assyrian empire, Isaiah’s words promising “light in the land of gloom” and “the rod of the taskmaster being smashed” were probably heard as hopes for a new government, a new leader, that could lead the country out of their political quagmire. As great a blessing as this would have been, it is paltry compared to what God desires for us.
The passage from Matthew gives a glimpse of what this is. It opens proclaiming Jesus to be Isaiah’s “great light” that came to people who dwelt “in a land overshadowed by death.” What is this great light that leads out of death? It is a life of repentance. It is “teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” It is a ministry calling us to heal, forgive, and care for others, work that is greater than politics and honor. It is life, as the psalmist sings, oriented toward “the loveliness of the Lord” and so dispels all fear.
Even with this “great light” that God calls us to, we resist it. We like the quick and easy road, not the challenge of the cross. We are like the disciples who were quick to leave work and family and follow Jesus only to flee him when he was arrested. We hide in locked rooms instead of living the fullness of life that Jesus brought to us. It is no wonder that the psalmist pleads for courage, stoutheartedness, and patience.
Fortunately, God does not want us to become satisfied with life lived in gloom and distress. God does not turn away from the way of the cross as we are wont to do. Jesus returned to the disciples to give them peace and call them out of fearful hiding to travel to the ends of the earth. So too, Jesus comes to us. He heals us, proclaims the good news of God’s love for us, and so shines a light on the way to “abundant joy and great rejoicing” in “the house of the Lord.”