Sunday Sermon for January 26, 2014, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23
In the first reading Isaiah prophesies that the people who lived in darkness would see a great light and that for those who dwelt in a land of gloom a light has shone. In the Gospel reading today St. Matthew makes clear that our Lord’s choice to withdraw to Capernaum at the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee was in fulfillment of this very prophecy.

It had actually been fulfilled previously, but in a way most people would not have known. We are told that when the Angel spoke to St. Joseph in Egypt and told him to take the Child and His Mother back to Israel, St. Joseph decided to take a different route because relatives of Herod were still ruling in the territories through which they would have to travel.

There were only a couple of routes in the ancient world that would take them to Galilee, so they went by the Mediterranean Sea on the Via Maritima. This route took the Holy Family to Mount Carmel where tradition teaches that hermits had been praying for the coming of the Messiah, and for His Mother in a special way, since the time of the Prophet Elijah. The holy men were graced to see those for whom they and their predecessors had been praying for so many years.

To get to Nazareth from Mount Carmel one would pass through Megiddo. Nazareth is about twenty miles from the eastern end of Mount Carmel with the plain of Megiddo lying in between. This is the ancient battlefield where the Egyptians and Assyrians would do battle, a horrible place that saw immense bloodshed over the centuries. This is also the place mentioned in the book of revelation as Armageddon.

Of course, the people who lived in these areas were plundered and pillaged every time these armies came their way. Truly they lived in a region of darkness and gloom. Beyond that, there were many gentiles in the area who did not have the light of truth, so it was dark in the spiritual sense as well.

It is into this kind of darkness that the Truth, the light of the world, the Prince of Peace, chose to come. It is from the shores of the Sea of Galilee that He calls His first disciples. When we hear about the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John we know that they were already united in faith as well as in friendship and as business partners.

However, we know it did not take long before Jesus added a tax collector, a zealot, and some others who were not of the same ideas and ideals as those first called. Undoubtedly, there were many clashes among the Apostles in the early days of our Lord’s public ministry because He had not yet formed them into a cohesive unit.

We see something similar happening in Corinth were the people were divided among themselves over something so foolish as loyalties to individuals who were not their Savior. St. Paul appeals to them that they would be in agreement and that there would be no divisions among them. What do you think he would say to us today? It is bad enough that there are so many divisions among Christian people (Protestants admit to 33,000 different groups), but we are seeing more and more division among those who call themselves Catholic.

There is only one Savior and He is also God. Therefore, what He says and does cannot be questioned. This does not mean that we will always understand what He is doing or why, but it means that we have to allow Him to form us as He did His first disciples. Our divisions are as foolish and petty as those of the Apostles during their formation or those of the people of Corinth after their conversion.

If nothing else, it is a scandal. We have to be united in truth and in charity. There will always be different ways of presenting the same truth, but it must always be the same truth that is being presented. Different people have different personalities and so what works for one person might not work for another. Regardless of that, we have to give each the benefit of the doubt, unless what they are presenting is heretical.

After their time of formation, the Apostles were untied in the truth and in charity for one another. They still had different personalities, but they were able to leave their own agendas behind and preach Jesus as the Christ. We must be careful to present the real Jesus, not our own opinion of who Jesus is. Salvation and unity both come from the same source: Jesus. Since He is truth and love, our unity with Him and with one another must be in truth and in love.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit