3rd Sunday Year A
Sunday 22nd January 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He moved out of Nazareth and into Capernaum, a lake-side town on the border between Zebulon and Naphtali. So the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled:
The Land of Zebulon! The Land of Naphtali!
Way of the Sea beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations!
The people who were sitting in darkness
have seen a great light;
and for those who lived in the dark fear of death,
light has come.
Then Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Change your heart and mind, for the Kingdom of God is close.’
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the sea for they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people!’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Going on further, he saw another two brothers, James, son of Zebedee with his brother John, in the boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their nets and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus went all over Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom. He cured all kinds of diseases and ailments amongst the people.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 26; 1,4, 13-14
God is my light and my salvation.
Whom shall I fear?
God is the strength of my life.
Of whom should I be afraid?
One thing I have desired from God,
this I will pursue:
that I may live in God’s house
all the days of my life,
to delight in his beauty,
to savour his presence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait on God with courage
and he will strengthen your heart.
Wait on God!
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Lord Jesus, you continue to call disciples in this world: you continue to call me. Give me the courage to drop all that would stop be living by your love and your call and give me the audacity to joyfully follow you.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry only when John is removed from the scene because of his arrest by Herod. The reasons for his arrest will be given later in the Gospel, by way of flashback but for now Matthew has Jesus withdraw out of Judea, back to Galilee, where he will conduct the greater part of his ministry, only returning to Judea in the lead up to his death and resurrection. Jesus does not return to his own home but moves to the significant town of Capernaum. Galilee was a very fertile, heavily populated region to the north of Judea, bounded by the Phoenicians and by Syria, with the area of Samaria separating it partially from Judea proper. Major trade routes passed through it, with the people having more exposure to Gentiles and thus more open to new ideas, hence the name, ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ Matthew’s use of the quotation from Isaiah is typical of his habit interpreting the Jewish scriptures in light of their fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ first words of preaching repeat John’s call to repentance (Mt 3:2). ‘Repent’ here is not about feeling guilt or humiliation over one’s past actions. Rather it is a change of mind and heart that allows one’s relationship with God to have ascendancy over a person’s life.
Jesus’ first action after beginning his preaching mission is to call his first disciples, in other words to form a small community around him, who would later become the nucleus of his Church. These initial calls are not to sole individuals, but to two sets of brothers, stressing communal nature of faith.
These calls by Jesus are a rupture from Jewish practice. Typically, a disciple would seek out a master and request to be accepted as a disciple. In the Gospel, it is Jesus rather who takes the initiative when calling Peter and Andrew, James and John. From the very beginning, the new life of grace being offered is free gift.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Jesus chooses to act in two significant ways in this Sunday’s Gospel. Firstly, he leaves Judea. There, he had heard the preaching of John the Baptist and been baptized by him. There, he had undergone temptation in the desert. There, also, was Jerusalem, the centre of both religious and political power. There was the temple, the sign and symbol of the presence of God with his people and consequently of great religious influence. Jesus leaves all this behind and returns to the ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’. The use of the term ‘of the Gentiles’ gives some idea of the opprobria in which the Jews of this area were held. A fertile and heavily populated region, it was also the crossroads on the nations, open to influence from outside. Consequently, the people were somewhat despised, particularly by the religious elite in Jerusalem.
Secondly, when Jesus begins his ministry, the first people he calls are the equivalent of modern-day tradesmen: not leaders of the synagogue, with some religious training, not Pharisees living lives devoted to the Law. Just tradies, they were probably known around town as ‘good blokes’ but certainly not the type to inspire confidence in the religious movement that Jesus was beginning.
In the decisions Jesus made in where and with whom, he began his ministry, he was making a clear statement that his preaching is not directed towards the religious elite but rather is directed to the common people by common people. We, as Jesus’ followers, are called to announce his Good News. Most of us feel overwhelmed by this call: we think we don’t have the knowledge, the charisma, the education to convey our faith, to influence people to change their lives and embrace our beliefs. But maybe we are looking in the wrong direction. I am the last person to denigrate religious education but when it comes to the proclamation of our faith maybe it will be done more effectively by how we do common, ordinary things. People are drawn to joy and happiness. By allowing free reign to the transformation given us by Jesus Christ to influence our ordinary behaviour, we ourselves become proclamations of the Good News.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
There is a quote from Socrates doing the rounds on the internet at present: ‘The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’ Would that it were so easy! Invariably, when we try that, the old comes back to sabotage us, often when we least expect it. There has to be another way…and there is. When Jesus says to us, in this Sunday’s Gospel, ‘repent!’ he is not calling us to feel guilty or humiliated over our past actions. Repentance means to change our minds and hearts so that our relationship with God becomes the primary relationship of our lives. Based on this relationship, all our other relationships and actions fall into their proper place and we are given the grace to deal with whatever comes our way.
So what happens to the negativity from ‘the old’? The quotation from Isaiah, immediately preceding Jesus’ call gives us the clue. The words, ‘The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light’, are a call to hope for the people living in darkness and under the shadow of death: light has come, specifically the healing light of Christ. We cannot deal effectively with our past, either by going over it or by ignoring it. We need to face it with the healing light of grace. Then we learn the mercy of God, and then we learn what we need to learn to grow into ‘the new’. There we will experience the brokenness and pain of our own crosses and failure, ‘the old’, but built on what can be learnt in the light of God’s grace, we can grow into the resurrected life that is being offered to us, ‘the new’.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– Duccio di Buoninsegna Christ calling the disciples, Peter and Andrew
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on the times that Jesus has called you in your life. Recall the circumstances and how you responded. What can you take from that and incorporate into your life now?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Ponder the parts of your life which you would like to change and the parts where you think God is calling you to change.
What attitudes, actions or habits impede these changes that your desire? Bring this, one by one, into the light of Christ’s grace and ask what wisdom you can draw from them.
With that wisdom, how could you allow change to happen in your life?
Rest in the love of your God.