Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Isaiah offers us a powerful lesson.
Isaiah lived in a time when God’s people were skating on thin ice. They still had their independence, at least after a fashion. Hebrew kings still reigned in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The religious, social, and political structures all still gave lip service to the ancient religion and to the holy covenant between God and the Chosen People.
Everything, however, was at risk because devotion to the covenant, and obedience to God’s law, were at low ebb and covetous neighbors were nearby.
Isaiah loudly warned that disaster was just around the corner. He said that the people could rescue themselves by returning to religious faithfulness and by obeying God, as the prophets had taught. He thereby implied a certain potential within the people.
They were weak because they ignored God. If they were determined, they could be virtuous and resist all enemies.
In the second reading, Paul obviously loved the Corinthian Christians. He yearned to see them saintly and eternally with the Lord, but just as obviously they troubled him, because they seemed so attracted to the many vices of their great, worldly, and wealthy city, and they seemed so vulnerable to the feelings of competitiveness and insecurity that vex all humans if not checked.
Never willing to be passive or indifferent, Paul loudly called the Christians in this community to be true to their identity with Christ.
He taught a basic message. Earthly reward will pass, more quickly than many might realize. Earthly wisdom is only folly, disproven so often. True wisdom is to understand the meaning of the cross, and this understanding requires grace, available only to those who earnestly follow the Lord.
St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is situated in Capernaum, the fishing village located at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was there after leaving Nazareth. His public ministry had begun.
As a center of commerce, albeit very modest commerce, Capernaum saw many people come and go. Jesus used this coincidence as an opportunity to encounter many people. He called them to fidelity to God. He repeated for them the admonitions of the Hebrew prophets.
In this place, Jesus met Andrew, and then Jesus met Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter, brothers because of the first of the Apostles in the sequence of calling.
It is interesting that the Gospels, such as the case in this reading, refer to these Apostles so specifically by giving their names. The Gospel leaves no doubt whatsoever about their identity. It was vital in the early Church that the teachings of the genuine Apostles be known and be kept intact.
These readings remind us of how blind we humans can be, and of how effective God-fearing humans can be.
In the first reading, Isaiah criticized the people for their religious listlessness, but he also presumed that, if they wished, they could reverse their wayward hearts and turn again to God.
In essence, the same message was in the second reading, from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. He boldly denounced the Corinthians’ sins and quarrels. By calling them to conversion, he insisted that they had the power within themselves to be holy.
We are sinners, but we need not be sinners. Sin binds us. We truly can be free by seizing the power of our wills, allowing divine grace to empower us even more, and disdaining sin to be one with Christ.
The teachings of the Apostles reliably guide us and draw us to the Lord.
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