Today’s readings describe moments of destruction, uncertainty and discord. They invite us to reflect on the imperfections of the world, learn from them and grow in our relationship with God and one another.
People who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. (Is 9:1)
How do you address differing viewpoints?
How can you overcome negative events in your life?
Do you look to God for comfort and guidance during moments of uncertainty?
The readings from Isaiah and Matthew both refer to the land of Galilee, specifically to territory associated with the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. Both books connect the land with a negative experience but then describe a positive outcome.
The Book of Isaiah is often analyzed as a composite work written over the course of several hundred years in Israel’s history. Today’s reading comes from the portion of the book sometimes called First Isaiah, the earliest prophetic layer of the text found in Chapters 1 through 39. During First Isaiah’s time, the northern kingdom of Israel—including the area of Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali—was destroyed by the Assyrians, and the people were conquered and exiled (2 Kgs 15:29). Despite Assyrian oppression (darkness), the author describes relief provided by God (light). Although initially a place of contempt, the region becomes a place of joy.
Over 700 years later, Matthew’s Gospel quotes a version of First Isaiah (Mt 4:14-16), connecting Jesus to the Israelite prophecy. He depicts Jesus fleeing to the same region after hearing of John the Baptist’s arrest. During this troubling period, Jesus proclaims a message of repentance closely associated with John’s ministry (Mt 3:1-9). Both Isaiah and Matthew reframe negative events as moments for progress. Fittingly, Jesus calls his first disciples at the Sea of Galilee. Although the impetus for Jesus’ journey was negative, Matthew presents it as the fulfillment of what was promised in Isaiah: Jesus begins his proclamation of the kingdom and calls followers to join his emerging ministry. Jesus’ disciples would gradually develop into a larger movement that included Jews and Gentiles. The second reading from 1 Corinthians reveals some of the challenges within those Christian communities.
After Jesus’ death, an early Christian community would develop at Corinth, a large urban center that was religiously, ethnically and culturally diverse. The reading from 1 Corinthians shows Paul responding to reports that have reached him about rivalries in the community. Paul insists that the Corinthians be in agreement with one another and be unified in their shared baptism in Christ. He condemns their divisions and quarrels and encourages harmony to build a unified church. Paul’s assertions are meant to unify people and end hostility. Yet, Paul’s call for unity should not be misinterpreted as imposing uniformity on Christian communities. Diversity can strengthen and enrich communities by honoring the perspectives of members.
Hearing and affirming different voices can increase understanding and build meaningful relationships. When conflicts emerge, they can be addressed with thoughtful dialogue, which is far richer than simple agreement with one another. We do not all need to think and live the same way in order to have a mutually respectful and open society. Paul’s calls for harmony and unity should be nuanced. Paul might inspire us to seek harmony in our communities; nevertheless, we can achieve that harmony while promoting thoughtful discourse that honors diverse perspectives.