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The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The reading is from Matthew 4:12-23.  It's a long reading but it's extremely important so follow along with me.  We will read it, we will ask some questions, and then we will use the Old Testament to unpack it.  This is a very important text.  Matthew 4:12 says this:

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Caper'na-um by the sea, in the territory of Zeb'ulun and Naph'tali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

and here is the quote from Isaiah

"The land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph’tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb'edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb'edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

So there is our Gospel for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  There is a lot of important questions to ask about this text.  Let's walk through it together.  Number one, why does Jesus withdraw into Galilee after John is arrested by Herod?  Number two, why does Jesus go and dwell at Capernaum in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali?  You can here that this is something that Matthew twice emphasizes.  He not only tells you that Jesus dwells in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, he then quotes a prophecy from Isaiah that speaks about these territories.  What does this mean?   For most of us — lets’s be honest — when you read those words Zebulun and Naphtali, do they have any meaning to you whatsoever or do you just blow by them?  Okay, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, lets move on.  Well why is Matthew emphasizing it?  Who were Zebulun and Napthali and why is it so important that Jesus start his ministry there and not elsewhere?  The third question, why does Jesus then begin to preach about the coming of the kingdom of heaven?  What would that have meant in a first century Jewish context?  And then finally, fourth, why does Jesus begin to call the twelve apostles?  We see here the account of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the first four of the twelve to be called.  What is the significance of his calling apostles and what would that have meant in a first century Jewish context?  So let's walk through each one of those together.

Number one.  After John's arrest Jesus withdraws into Galilee.  Why?  Why Capernaum?  Why Galilee?  Well if you think for a minute — it is important keep straight in your minds eye that — Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and Judea, is in the south.  That is the southern territory known as Judah.  Galilee is in the northern part of the holy land and that is where Nazareth is.  That is where Jesus grew up.  So in this case John the Baptist was doing his ministry in the south, in Judea, and that is where he was arrested, executed, and put to death by Herod.  So Jesus here goes from the south in Judah (Judea) and up into Galilee, he “withdraws into Galilee.”  Why does he got here?  Well on the one hand, just on a practical level, Judea is dangerous now.  John has just been beheaded as a prophet and Jesus, if he were to begin ministry there, would face some of the similar dangers from the king and from authorities.  So it is practically speaking a very wise decision to get out of Judea which is a hotbed for this kind of political turmoil and move into a safer, quieter territory up in the north in Galilee.  But that is not why Matthew says Jesus goes up into the land of Galilee.  Matthew says that Jesus does it in order to fulfill a prophecy, that he goes to Capernaum, to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that the words of the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled — and then he gives you the quote from Isaiah that I read.

Now for many of us Christians reading in the 21st century, that prophecy doesn't mean that much.  But for a first century Jew, this would have been absolutely critical.  Why?  Well you have to understand the history of Israel.  So forgive me, I'm going to do a bit of history here but it's essential for understanding who Jesus is and what he is all about.  So for those of you have the handouts you can follow  along.  I have given you a little chart on the handout of key moments in the history of Israel.  For those of you that don’t have the handout, I will try to hit the high points here.  So in ancient Jewish history, according to the Bible, around 1000 BC — so a thousand years before Jesus comes onto the scene — God promises King David that his kingdom, which is the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 sons of Jacob and their descendents, that those 12 tribes as a kingdom will last forever.  God promises David that in 1000 BC in the book of Samuel, 2 Samuel 7.  However, by 922 BC after the death of Solomon, the 12 tribes split into two different kingdoms.  The 10 tribes of the north become the kingdom of Israel and then the two tribes in the south become the kingdom of Judah.  And these two kingdoms are at war with one another, they are at strife with one another, they are divided from one another, and that's how they continue for a couple hundred years until something absolutely momentous took place.  It's sometimes forgotten by Christians, but no Jew would have forgotten it.  In 722 BC — about 700 years before Christ — the Assyrian exile happened.

What was the Assyrian exile?  Well the Assyrian Empire at the time — in the eighth century BC — was extremely powerful and they came into the northern part of the holy land and they decimated it and they took those 10 northern tribes, the northern kingdom of Israel, they destroyed them they killed them, and what remained of them they took into exile and they scattered them amongst the pagan peoples of the surrounding world.  So this is called the Assyrian exile of the 10 northern tribes.  If you want an analogy for this to kind of help you see the significance, imagine if in the early years of the United States when we just had 13 colonies, imagine if 10 of those 13 colonies would've been conquered, say by the French or the English.  What would that have done to the United States?  It would have decimated the union, it would have been an absolutely devastating defeat, because the majority of the colonies would be destroyed or taken into exile.  That is what happened to Israel.  In 722 BC in the Assyrian exile,  the majority of the people of God, the majority of the sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel, were wiped off the face of the map.  They were driven out of the holy land and they were no more.  They had a few remnants here and there, but their tribal land, their tribal territory, was now taken over by pagans.  That happened in 722 BC.  Now guess what were the first two tribes to go into exile in the Assyrian exile.  It was the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.  In other words, the territory of Galilee is where that exile began, where the overthrow of the 12 tribes started, and that's where Jesus is going to begin his public ministry.  Precisely where the exile began is where Jesus is going to start undoing the effects of the exile.  Precisely where the 12 tribes were decimated and broken into pieces and scattered to the four winds is where Jesus is going to begin calling his 12 disciples in order to gather around himself a new Israel and in order to establish a new kingdom.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Now the next point of the passage here...the lectionary skips down to verse 17. In this case, it’s a little misleading the way it does this because it sounds like Paul is trashing Baptism here. So he says, after saying where you baptize in the name of Paul, he says:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Alright, so what’s he talking about there? I’ve had several students be troubled by this and ask me, “Well, Dr. Pitre, I thought Baptism...it’s instituted by Jesus. He says it’s necessary for salvation. That’s the whole point of the Great Commission—go into all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28). Why does Paul say, ‘He did not send me to baptize’”?

Well, this is one of those times where writers like Paul will use hyperbole to make a point—an exaggeration to make a point. And you’d actually be able to see this easier if the verses that were left out were there. So let’s read that in context. If we just back up a few verses to verse 13, in the lectionary it says:

...were you baptized in the name of Paul?

And then it skips these verses where Paul says:

I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Ga′ius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Steph′anas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel… (1 Corinthians 1:14-17a)

So notice in context there, the reason he’s relativizing Baptism is not because there is anything wrong with Baptism. Paul himself engaged in Baptism. Notice he baptized whole households, which would include not just the father and the mother, but children and servants as well. Another little clue about the Baptism of children—probably including infants—in the letter from Paul.

But what he says here is, I’m thankful I didn’t baptize any of you except these few people, so that no one would say that they were baptized in my name. In other words, the fact that Paul baptized them was fostering the factionalism among the Church. So it seems in context that some people are saying, when they say “I belong to Paul,” what they mean is “I was baptized by Paul.” Or “I belong to Apol’los”...they might mean “I was baptized by Apol’los.” And so Paul is saying, “That’s not how this works. If you’re baptized, you’re baptized into Christ, so I’m glad I didn’t baptize anyone except a few of you.” And I love that he says here, “I don’t remember who else I baptized.” He can’t keep it straight. I like that he’s kind of forgetful. As a professor, that’s somewhat encouraging.

And in context what Paul means is, “Christ did not send me to baptize so much as to preach the Gospel. So my primary mission is to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. My primary mission is to bring the Gospel of salvation to…especially to pagans, to those who do not know Him.” And there’s a little bit of an implication here that Paul’s making a dig against Apol’los. Because remember, Apol’los is described in Acts as being very eloquent, highfalutin, uses big words. He’s from Alexandria, he’s got letters behind his name...so he uses these hundred dollar words. Paul doesn’t do that. Well, I mean...he says he’s simple, but try reading the letter to the Romans. But this isn’t Romans, it’s Corinthians. But notice what he says:

...[I came] to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

So Paul’s goal is to preach the cross. That’s what he’s all about with the Corinthians. And if you want an analog for this, the best example I can think of is in Acts 6. If you recall and you look at Acts 6, Acts 6 is when there’s a division that breaks out between the Hellenists and the Hebrews among the widows. Some of them are being neglected in the alms that are being given to the poor. And so what happens is the apostles—in Acts 6:2—the twelve apostles summon the disciples and say:

It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

So they end up picking seven men of good repute to engage in the ministry of diakonia, service — this is related to the foundation of the diaconate, the service of charity to the poor. Not because charity to the poor isn’t important. Jesus says Himself, if you want to be perfect, give alms. But it’s a division of labor, and it’s about priority. The apostles’ primary commission is to evangelize, is to preach the Gospel. And they delegate the ministry of charity to those seven men who are chosen as deacons.

So the same thing here’s true for Paul. What he’s saying is, “My primary mission is not to baptize people so they can go around saying, ‘I was baptized by Paul.’ My primary mission is to preach the Gospel to the nations. I am the apostle to the Gentiles”.

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The reading is from Matthew 4:12-23.  It's a long reading but it's extremely important so follow along with me.  We will read it, we will ask some questions, and then we will use the Old Testament to unpack it.  This is a very important text.  Matthew 4:12 says this:

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Caper'na-um by the sea, in the territory of Zeb'ulun and Naph'tali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

and here is the quote from Isaiah

"The land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph’tali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb'edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb'edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

So there is our Gospel for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  There is a lot of important questions to ask about this text.  Let's walk through it together.  Number one, why does Jesus withdraw into Galilee after John is arrested by Herod?  Number two, why does Jesus go and dwell at Capernaum in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali?  You can here that this is something that Matthew twice emphasizes.  He not only tells you that Jesus dwells in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, he then quotes a prophecy from Isaiah that speaks about these territories.  What does this mean?   For most of us — lets’s be honest — when you read those words Zebulun and Naphtali, do they have any meaning to you whatsoever or do you just blow by them?  Okay, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, lets move on.  Well why is Matthew emphasizing it?  Who were Zebulun and Napthali and why is it so important that Jesus start his ministry there and not elsewhere?  The third question, why does Jesus then begin to preach about the coming of the kingdom of heaven?  What would that have meant in a first century Jewish context?  And then finally, fourth, why does Jesus begin to call the twelve apostles?  We see here the account of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the first four of the twelve to be called.  What is the significance of his calling apostles and what would that have meant in a first century Jewish context?  So let's walk through each one of those together.

Number one.  After John's arrest Jesus withdraws into Galilee.  Why?  Why Capernaum?  Why Galilee?  Well if you think for a minute — it is important keep straight in your minds eye that — Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and Judea, is in the south.  That is the southern territory known as Judah.  Galilee is in the northern part of the holy land and that is where Nazareth is.  That is where Jesus grew up.  So in this case John the Baptist was doing his ministry in the south, in Judea, and that is where he was arrested, executed, and put to death by Herod.  So Jesus here goes from the south in Judah (Judea) and up into Galilee, he “withdraws into Galilee.”  Why does he got here?  Well on the one hand, just on a practical level, Judea is dangerous now.  John has just been beheaded as a prophet and Jesus, if he were to begin ministry there, would face some of the similar dangers from the king and from authorities.  So it is practically speaking a very wise decision to get out of Judea which is a hotbed for this kind of political turmoil and move into a safer, quieter territory up in the north in Galilee.  But that is not why Matthew says Jesus goes up into the land of Galilee.  Matthew says that Jesus does it in order to fulfill a prophecy, that he goes to Capernaum, to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that the words of the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled — and then he gives you the quote from Isaiah that I read.

Now for many of us Christians reading in the 21st century, that prophecy doesn't mean that much.  But for a first century Jew, this would have been absolutely critical.  Why?  Well you have to understand the history of Israel.  So forgive me, I'm going to do a bit of history here but it's essential for understanding who Jesus is and what he is all about.  So for those of you have the handouts you can follow  along.  I have given you a little chart on the handout of key moments in the history of Israel.  For those of you that don’t have the handout, I will try to hit the high points here.  So in ancient Jewish history, according to the Bible, around 1000 BC — so a thousand years before Jesus comes onto the scene — God promises King David that his kingdom, which is the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 sons of Jacob and their descendents, that those 12 tribes as a kingdom will last forever.  God promises David that in 1000 BC in the book of Samuel, 2 Samuel 7.  However, by 922 BC after the death of Solomon, the 12 tribes split into two different kingdoms.  The 10 tribes of the north become the kingdom of Israel and then the two tribes in the south become the kingdom of Judah.  And these two kingdoms are at war with one another, they are at strife with one another, they are divided from one another, and that's how they continue for a couple hundred years until something absolutely momentous took place.  It's sometimes forgotten by Christians, but no Jew would have forgotten it.  In 722 BC — about 700 years before Christ — the Assyrian exile happened.

What was the Assyrian exile?  Well the Assyrian Empire at the time — in the eighth century BC — was extremely powerful and they came into the northern part of the holy land and they decimated it and they took those 10 northern tribes, the northern kingdom of Israel, they destroyed them they killed them, and what remained of them they took into exile and they scattered them amongst the pagan peoples of the surrounding world.  So this is called the Assyrian exile of the 10 northern tribes.  If you want an analogy for this to kind of help you see the significance, imagine if in the early years of the United States when we just had 13 colonies, imagine if 10 of those 13 colonies would've been conquered, say by the French or the English.  What would that have done to the United States?  It would have decimated the union, it would have been an absolutely devastating defeat, because the majority of the colonies would be destroyed or taken into exile.  That is what happened to Israel.  In 722 BC in the Assyrian exile,  the majority of the people of God, the majority of the sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel, were wiped off the face of the map.  They were driven out of the holy land and they were no more.  They had a few remnants here and there, but their tribal land, their tribal territory, was now taken over by pagans.  That happened in 722 BC.  Now guess what were the first two tribes to go into exile in the Assyrian exile.  It was the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.  In other words, the territory of Galilee is where that exile began, where the overthrow of the 12 tribes started, and that's where Jesus is going to begin his public ministry.  Precisely where the exile began is where Jesus is going to start undoing the effects of the exile.  Precisely where the 12 tribes were decimated and broken into pieces and scattered to the four winds is where Jesus is going to begin calling his 12 disciples in order to gather around himself a new Israel and in order to establish a new kingdom.

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Now the next point of the passage here...the lectionary skips down to verse 17. In this case, it’s a little misleading the way it does this because it sounds like Paul is trashing Baptism here. So he says, after saying where you baptize in the name of Paul, he says:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Alright, so what’s he talking about there? I’ve had several students be troubled by this and ask me, “Well, Dr. Pitre, I thought Baptism...it’s instituted by Jesus. He says it’s necessary for salvation. That’s the whole point of the Great Commission—go into all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28). Why does Paul say, ‘He did not send me to baptize’”?

Well, this is one of those times where writers like Paul will use hyperbole to make a point—an exaggeration to make a point. And you’d actually be able to see this easier if the verses that were left out were there. So let’s read that in context. If we just back up a few verses to verse 13, in the lectionary it says:

...were you baptized in the name of Paul?

And then it skips these verses where Paul says:

I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Ga′ius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Steph′anas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel… (1 Corinthians 1:14-17a)

So notice in context there, the reason he’s relativizing Baptism is not because there is anything wrong with Baptism. Paul himself engaged in Baptism. Notice he baptized whole households, which would include not just the father and the mother, but children and servants as well. Another little clue about the Baptism of children—probably including infants—in the letter from Paul.

But what he says here is, I’m thankful I didn’t baptize any of you except these few people, so that no one would say that they were baptized in my name. In other words, the fact that Paul baptized them was fostering the factionalism among the Church. So it seems in context that some people are saying, when they say “I belong to Paul,” what they mean is “I was baptized by Paul.” Or “I belong to Apol’los”...they might mean “I was baptized by Apol’los.” And so Paul is saying, “That’s not how this works. If you’re baptized, you’re baptized into Christ, so I’m glad I didn’t baptize anyone except a few of you.” And I love that he says here, “I don’t remember who else I baptized.” He can’t keep it straight. I like that he’s kind of forgetful. As a professor, that’s somewhat encouraging.

And in context what Paul means is, “Christ did not send me to baptize so much as to preach the Gospel. So my primary mission is to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. My primary mission is to bring the Gospel of salvation to…especially to pagans, to those who do not know Him.” And there’s a little bit of an implication here that Paul’s making a dig against Apol’los. Because remember, Apol’los is described in Acts as being very eloquent, highfalutin, uses big words. He’s from Alexandria, he’s got letters behind his name...so he uses these hundred dollar words. Paul doesn’t do that. Well, I mean...he says he’s simple, but try reading the letter to the Romans. But this isn’t Romans, it’s Corinthians. But notice what he says:

...[I came] to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

So Paul’s goal is to preach the cross. That’s what he’s all about with the Corinthians. And if you want an analog for this, the best example I can think of is in Acts 6. If you recall and you look at Acts 6, Acts 6 is when there’s a division that breaks out between the Hellenists and the Hebrews among the widows. Some of them are being neglected in the alms that are being given to the poor. And so what happens is the apostles—in Acts 6:2—the twelve apostles summon the disciples and say:

It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

So they end up picking seven men of good repute to engage in the ministry of diakonia, service — this is related to the foundation of the diaconate, the service of charity to the poor. Not because charity to the poor isn’t important. Jesus says Himself, if you want to be perfect, give alms. But it’s a division of labor, and it’s about priority. The apostles’ primary commission is to evangelize, is to preach the Gospel. And they delegate the ministry of charity to those seven men who are chosen as deacons.

So the same thing here’s true for Paul. What he’s saying is, “My primary mission is not to baptize people so they can go around saying, ‘I was baptized by Paul.’ My primary mission is to preach the Gospel to the nations. I am the apostle to the Gentiles”.

For full access subscribe here >

 



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