Isaiah 8:23-9:3

Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14

1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17

Matthew 4:12-23

Although not particularly obvious, there is a very intimate connection between our first reading from the prophet Isaiah and our gospel reading from Matthew. Let’s parse the reading from Isaiah first in order that we might understand the depth of all that Matthew is telling us.

It is good to remember that God promised the Israelites an “everlasting kingdom” that would take place through the lineage of King David (it is that Davidic connection which is so important in the infancy narratives recounting Jesus’ birth). Eight centuries before Christ, that part of the kingdom where the tribes of “Zebulon and Naphtali” lived was attacked by the Assyrians, and the tribes were hauled off into captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26). This marked the beginning of the kingdom’s end. The everlasting kingdom of David finally crumbled a full two centuries later when Jerusalem was seized by Babylon and the remaining tribes were driven into exile (2 Kings 24:14).

As a prophet Isaiah was meant to make his people accountable for their actions, while always making sure that he never leaves them without hope. There is great hope in our first reading, even though Isaiah is recounting the failure of the promised “everlasting kingdom.” The two tribes whose exile marked the beginning of the end of God’s “everlasting kingdom” shall be “glorified.” Isaiah beautifully states that “anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for their is no gloom where but now there was distress.” For “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

The hope promised by Isaiah wasn’t exactly around the corner, for as Christians we believe that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled eight centuries later with the birth of Jesus, a “light to all the nations,” as our recent celebration of the Epiphany made clear. Isaiah prophesied that Zebulon and Naphtali, the lands first to be degraded and sent off into exile, would be the first to see the light of God’s salvation. With His birth and with what is recounted in today’s gospel, Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy – announcing the restoration of David’s kingdom at precisely the spot where the kingdom began to fall apart.

In Matthew’s gospel (a gospel written for a Jewish audience), Jesus moves from Nazareth to “Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali.” It is no accident that Jesus begins His public ministry by the Sea of Galilee. It is here that He will make His first (and perhaps, most important) choice of disciples. Zebulon and Naphtali had been waiting centuries for some kind of rehabilitation, and now the light that was promised by Isaiah is walking among them, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So compelling was Jesus’ presence that it caused Peter and Andrew, James and John, to leave their families and former professions of fishing behind. We are told that Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” It was an auspicious beginning to a ministry that would soon spread to “all of Syria,” where “great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judaea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.”

Jesus was clearly the Messiah foretold by Isaiah, the light to all nations, yet He shunned the title for it had become too entangled with political motivations. Jesus spent His time doing God’s will, and teaching others how to follow in His footsteps. Had we lived “by the sea” at that time, would the light of His countenance have touched us as dramatically as it did that of the first disciples? If Jesus was living in our neighborhood, working in our place of employment, vacationing in our neck of the woods, would we be able to recognize the goodness which would motivate us to turn our lives around, and follow in the footsteps of Jesus? May we be ready to recognize Jesus in the most unexpected of places, in the most unexpected of people.


Sanctity of Human Life Sunday happens on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Regardless of the surprising overturning of abortion’s constitutionality, it should be clear that there continues to be a great need to preach about the dignity of human life. For the few priests who would openly speak about abortion, two days were given in a calendar year when diverting from the proscribed liturgical texts to highlight the importance of protecting all human life, from womb to tomb. Hearts continue to need to be won over, and so I here provide a snippet from my Respect Life Sunday homily, given on October 5, 2021:

The immediate catalyst for the increased focus on Life issues is a series of state laws, often referred to by some as ‘fetal heartbeat laws,’ laws which prohibit abortions after the discovery of a very definite heartbeat coming from the baby in the womb, somewhere between six and twelve weeks, depending on who you are talking to.

Vocal critics of the laws, of course, who would not refer to what is in the womb as a “baby,” refer to the ‘heart-like’ sound as a “flutter,” and they insist that a real “embryo” has no heart. Indeed, we can expect to hear a lot of strictly medical jargon in the discussions surrounding these laws. There will be embryos and fetuses; no one will speak of a baby! While the medical jargon may be accurate, it’s only intention is to dehumanize what is present in the womb. Let’s be honest – no one desires to brag about “killing the baby in my womb.” Indeed, miscarriages are extremely sad, not because of the loss of some kind of ‘medical tissue,’ but because a longed-for baby is lost.

There is legitimate debate about when an actual heartbeat occurs during the gestational process, and pro-life persons place themselves in a precarious position when they tie themselves to a precise moment of when an actual heartbeat occurs. In reality, whether it is 6, 8, or twelve weeks is of no consequence, for most Catholics believe that human life begins at conception, for if left free of internal or external negative intrusions, that ovum and sperm that comes together will result in the baby most people long for.

The tragedy of the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions on Roe v. Wade, and Doe v. Bolton, decisions many scholars of the Law feel were bad decisions, is forcibly inserting the “my body, my right” into the U.S. Constitution, giving to abortion proponents a win, and placing a secondary right over the most fundamental of all rights, the right to life. The skewed percentages of people who appear to be in favor of abortion by leaving things the way they are, are made up of people who cannot remember what things were like before Roe v. Wade, and thus they cannot imagine a time when abortion was illegal and not constitutionally protected. Had the devious pro-abortion cases settled for decriminalizing abortion, with states in charge of regulating the entire industry, and had the Supreme Court not placed abortion within a constitutionally protected sphere, our debates today would be vastly different. At times it seems impossible to imagine the possibility of abortion being legal, but not embedded in our country’s Constitution.

We can now not only imagine living in that kind of world, but now we have to learn how to operate in such a way that hearts and minds are truly changed at their core.

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