The first reading comes from a section of Isaiah which nowadays we associate with Christmas. In Advent (the 4th Sunday of Advent, cycle A) we heard a prophecy of the birth of a young lady’s first child to be called Immanuel (‘God with us’). There are two other children in this section of the book; they have equally meaningful names: Maher Shalal Hash Baz (‘disaster will come upon many’) and She’ar Yashub (‘rescue for some’). All this precedes the section we read today; and after our reading comes the source of the well-known Christmas carol, “Unto us a son is born” (Isaiah 9:6). Our reading refers to Zebulun and Naphtali, which were tribal areas in the break-away northern kingdom. It is in these areas, we read, there have been difficulties but also glorious times (perhaps in the future). Because of the editing of the book of Isaiah over many centuries, it is uncertain what the historical reference is; it could be about 733 BC when the Assyrians invaded that land, but would eventually loose power, or it could be about the 6th century BC exile in Babylon and the eventual return. But for us today, it is clearly linked with the words of the gospel: there may have been darkness but now the light begins to shine!
The second reading gives us an insight into a part of the early church in Corinth. Paul has heard that there are divisions within the community of believers – some of whom might be from the church that meets in the house of a lady called Chloe. Among the believers there seem to be groups who align themselves with different viewpoints associated with different key persons. Some may treat Paul as their inspiration and want to follow his line of teaching and his way of living as a Christian. Some prefer a person called Apollos, who may have had a more intellectual approach to the teaching and they may consider themselves as a result more pleasing to God. Some may see Peter as the key leader of those who follow the way of Jesus and who are keen on not doing away with all that is taught in the Jewish scriptures and all that has been drawn up as rules from them. Others, seeing themselves as superior, want to go back to the simple way of Jesus. Paul thinks they are all wrong to be arguing with each other, to be thinking that they alone have it right and being antagonistic towards others. Paul adds that he doesn’t preach in any particular or sophisticated way, but just wants to communicate the meaning of the cross. What would he say to the world-wide church today of many denominations and so many different attitudes – do we all have it wrong because it is a mystery, a mystery that God’s son should end up crucified as a criminal?
In the gospel we read Matthew’s account of the actual start of Jesus’ public ministry. Before this he has written of the Infancy, of the Baptism and of Jesus’ Temptations. Matthew takes what is one sentence in Mark and imprints it with his own depth of meaning. For example, John the Baptist has be arrested by Herod and Matthew writes that upon hearing this Jesus moves away from his early years in Nazareth. He goes into an area by the sea of Galilee, a place where there are more non-Jews. This reflects the pattern Matthew has written of in his Infancy Narrative: there Joseph takes Jesus away from the threat of Herod, and it is Gentiles (the magi) who are helpful to the holy family. Matthew sees this move as God’s will and a Jewish way of showing this is to see it as fulfilling the (Jewish) scriptures. So, as in the Infancy Narratives, Matthew has a reference to a prophecy being fulfilled – the passage of our first reading (but differing slightly from both the Hebrew and the Greek originals as we know them – perhaps just remembered rather than checked!). So Jesus begins to preach, asking for a change of one’s life, for the influence of God (the Kingdom) is beginning with this start of Jesus’ public activity of teaching and healing.
See Jeffs Jottings – A light for all