Do Penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is At Hand!
Gospel Reflection for January 22, 2023 - Mt 4:12-23
And when Jesus had heard that John was delivered up, he retired into Galilee:
And leaving the city Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capharnaum on the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim;
That it might be fulfilled which was said by Isaias the prophet:
Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim, the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
And Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers).
And he saith to them: Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.
And they immediately leaving their nets, followed him.
And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets: and he called them.
And they forthwith left their nets and father, and followed him.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom: and healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, among the people. (Mt 4:12-23 DRA)
The Gospel reading for this week, with its quoted prophecy from Isaias, is a fitting complement to the Christmas season. Only three verses after the first reading, we find: “For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6) A gloss (Catena Aurea) explains that there were two Galilees or divisions of it, one of the Jews and one of the Gentiles. Christ specifically preached and worked miracles in the Galilee of the Gentiles. By doing so, He not only fulfilled prophecy but made explicit an element of Old Testament revelation that some in ancient Judaism minimized: the salvation of the Messiah is for all the nations, not only the Chosen People of Israel. Only God can accomplish this salvation, not a purely human Messiah, and so, like the Magi, Isaias knew that the destroyer of sin must be God the Mighty.
In the prophecy of Isaias, it is said: “For the yoke of their burden, and the rod of their shoulder, and the sceptre of their oppressor thou hast overcome, as in the day of Median.” (Is 9:4) This is the mark of the coming of the Messiah, the sign of His mission longed for not only by the Hebrews but by all humanity since the Fall. Jesus’s work of “healing all manner of sickness and every infirmity, among the people” is later the sign Christ gives when the imprisoned St. John the Baptist asks if He is the Messiah. (Mt 11:4-5) Death, whose most familiar reminder is bodily infirmity, according to St. Paul is “the wages of sin”. (Rom 6:23) Along with concupiscence, illness and injury are the principal effects of original sin, and they are the very rod and sceptre of oppression which Christ in His omnipotent charity abolished.
Everyone who has experienced these afflictions, in themselves or their loved ones, knows that they are indeed a yoke of burden, a constant worry which distracts from and hinders the good work we want to do for God and neighbor. No matter how incredible the advancements in medicine, illness and death remain, as do moral evils, mental disorders and other struggles which we have inherited from Adam and Eve. Christ alone is the answer. Without the destruction of death by His own self-sacrifice and the creation of new life in His Resurrection, in which we participate through the Sacraments of the Church, this burden is immovable and leads only to eternal death in Hell. Like the apostles whom Christ called in the Gospel reading today, we must say to Him as St. Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:69)