Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Mt 4: 12-25
Today’s Gospel tells of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the beginnings of the Kingdom of God among men that breaks through at the coming of the Son in their midst.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the passage that we’ve heard is placed immediately after the episode of Jesus’ temptations in the desert, that is, after the time when the Lord chooses for his mission the way of humble obedience, the style of the servant who gives his life for his brothers.
Armed with this choice, Jesus begins the work for which he was sent.
He begins it “when he heard that John had been arrested (lit: handed over)” (Mt 4:12). Matthew seems to say that the news of John’s arrest is a decisive event: his mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, to awake an expectation of Him. Now the precursor has fulfilled his mission and leaves the scene. It is time that the One, of whom John gave testimony, enters it.
But not only. John leaves the scene as well, like every prophet, paying with their life the weight of their own words. Jesus, then, picks up the baton and begins his mission, which he will accomplish in the same way, he also is handed over (cf. Mt 26, 15:16. etc.) and put to death, he also giving life.
First of all, Jesus chooses the place where to start his own mission: Galilee.
It is interesting that the evangelist uses a sptheecific term to say that Jesus begins in Galilee. He does not simply say that he went to Galilee (as do Mark and Luke), but that he withdrew there (Mt 4:12).
In Matthew 2:22-23 we find an almost identical expression, where it is spoken of Joseph’s returning from Egypt: “But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea, he was afraid … he withdrew into Galilee and went to live in a city called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets…” Withdrawing is a term peculiar to Matthew, and it points out that change of course needed to find the space where salvation can be introduced: there where a way seems closed, the Lord opens a new one, in which to withdraw … We then have a first indication of how the Kingdom enters history.
It is intertwined with human events, and by them it is allowed in some way to take shape. But even there, where adverse events appear to change its course, in reality they merely perform an ancient plan, which is always a plan of salvation. Right there where someone withdraws, a word of a prophet is fulfilled…
So Jesus chooses Galilee. He chooses a border region and goes to live in a town on a trade route, of travels, of encounters. Jesus chooses to go and live in a kind of crossroads, in a place where the roads intersect, that is, in a place where sooner or later everyone will pass. He does not reserve his message to a select few, but opens it to anyone who passes. It is for all. He chooses to distance himself to places far from power and close to the life of the people, close to the real life of man. They are places where nothing is expected, places of lost people. And they are places where, religiously speaking, one is exposed to impurity at every step, where it is almost impossible to please God, according to certain requirements. From there Jesus begins.
What does Jesus do in Capernaum?
Matthew reserves a short verse for Jesus’ preaching, but immediately goes into his first important work. It is not an exorcism, not a miracle, not a cure. The first work of Jesus is the call of the disciples. As to say that Jesus goes to meet the crowd, but in the crowd he looks for personal and unique relationships.
He takes care of everyone, but not in a general way: he meets all one by one. And the encounter is an invitation to the sequel, because really this sequel is the Kingdom, it is salvation.
Jesus calls his own to follow him to become a “a fisher of men” (Mt 4:19), that is, he calls them to make their lives a gift for others. This is healing: it is learning to take care of one’s brothers and sisters, to have at heart the salvation of others.
This can happen in so many ways, in every way that charity suggests, but with the sole purpose of being instruments of communion, so that men may live reconciled among themselves.
The Gospel today brings us to those crossroads of life where we encounter others and learn to care for them. It invites us to stay there, to withdraw there, so that there may be no more room for the spirit of evil which divides brothers.
This is the conversion (Mt 4:17) to which Jesus calls!
And this is the great light that appears in the darkness (Mt 4:17) of a humanity is often incapable precisely of this love.
So, we have seen that two scenes make up this Gospel passage:
in the first we find Jesus, who sets off in search of the men; in the second, the field is narrowed to the disciples, to again open it up to those men to whom they become fishermen.
This is the dynamic of the Kingdom, a dynamic that goes from oneself to others; and that reaching them, invites them to do the same, in a circle that widens and brings life farther and farther afield.
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa