1st Reading – Isaiah 8:23 – 9:3
Today we hear from a portion of Isaiah called the “Book of Emmanuel.” This book encompasses chapters 7 through 12. The portion we read from today is titled “The Prince of Peace.” The events described in Chapters 7 through 12 took place between 735 and 733 B.C. It is the Syro-Ephramitic war which is concisely described in 2 Kings 16:5-9 “5 Then Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to attack it. Although they besieged Ahaz, they were unable to conquer him. 6 At the same time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom, driving the Judeans out of it. The Edomites then entered Elath, which they have occupied until the present. 7 Meanwhile, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, with the plea: “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the clutches of the king of Aram and the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz took the silver and gold that were in the temple of the LORD and in the palace treasuries and sent them as a present to the king of Assyria, 9 who listened to him and moved against Damascus, which he captured. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.”
Isaiah’s task was to guide Judah through one of the most critical periods in her history. With the death of Uzziah in 742 B.C., Judah’s time of prosperity and national glory had come to an end. The shadow of Assyria lay menacingly over the land. In his lifetime Isaiah saw the northern kingdom of Israel swept away in the tide of conquest and his own land of Judah invaded by the mighty Assyrian armies. But the spiritual crisis of Judah was even more serious than the threat of physical destruction. Greed, hypocrisy and injustice were sapping the spiritual integrity of Judah. There was also the national loss of nerve that led its rulers to seek an accommodation with Assyria and her gods, thus undermining the very foundation of Judah’s existence as a covenanted people. Judah’s king was the descendent of David to whom an eternal dynasty had been promised (2 Samuel 17). With Assyria sweeping all before her, many of the Judeans began to doubt the power of Yahweh to preserve the dynasty of David in accordance with His promises. Others took an opposite but equally unspiritual position; interpreting the covenant with David as a guarantee of absolute invincibility no matter what crimes were committed against Yahweh. When religion becomes a blank check for national wrongdoing, the end is not far off; no one saw this better than Isaiah. King Uzziah had been succeeded by Jotham (ruled 742 – 735 B.C.) who was succeeded by Ahaz (ruled 735 – 715 B.C.).
Isaiah looked for a successor to Ahaz in whom the promise of the dynasty would be realized; in our reading today Isaiah describes him and the deliverance his coming would occasion.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
From the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:1-18) we know that the church of Corinth was founded by Saint Paul, with the help of Silas and Timothy, during his 2nd missionary journey. The apostle had arrived in Corinth from Athens, where he had made few converts. This relative failure in Athens, plus the moral corruption which reigned supreme in Corinth, may explain why he arrived “in much fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). No doubt moved by the Holy Spirit, in this new city the apostle would leave aside the rhetoric of human wisdom and simply proclaim “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Saint Paul spent more than a year and a half teaching in Corinth – in the period A.D. 50-52 (Acts 18:11). To begin with he stayed and worked with Aquila and Priscilla, a Christian couple who had been expelled from Rome shortly before, because of Claudius’ edict against the Jews (Acts 18:2). As was his custom, he preached, to begin with, in the synagogue – to Jews and Greeks who believed in the God of Israel (Acts 18:4). Later, because of the opposition he was meeting from Jews, he decided to concentrate on preaching to the Gentiles. At that point he changed his lodgings and stayed with Titus Justus, a Gentile who was living close to the synagogue and who may very well have been a convert to Judaism (Acts 18:6-7).
Paul made many converts in Corinth – Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, being one of the most prominent (Acts 18:18) – but he had his share of setbacks as well. Once, our Lord appeared to him at night in a vision, to raise his spirits (Acts 18:9-10). Increasing opposition from Jews ultimately led to charges being brought against Paul to Gallio, the Roman proconsul; but Gallio gave the matter no importance because he saw it as a complicated Jewish religious squabble (Acts 18:12-17). There is documentary evidence – published in 1902 – in the form of an inscription found at Delphi recording that Gallio’s term of office in Achaia began in July, A.D. 51. This allows us to date fairly precisely the Apostle’s first stay in Corinth: he would have been brought for his appearance before Gallio in the early months of A.D. 52. He left Corinth shortly after this, taking ship with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18).
Approximately a year after this, there arrived in Corinth a man named Apollos, a very eloquent Jew of Alexandrian origin; he carried on the work Paul had begun (Acts 18:26-28; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6).
To judge from the information Saint Paul provides in his letters, the Christian community at Corinth was one of his largest foundations. Seemingly, Christians of pagan birth were in the majority (1 Corinthians 12:2), most of them were educated and even well-to-do (1 Corinthians 1:26-29); it was a community of some considerable size, with all walks of life represented (1 Corinthians 11:2-6; 14:34-35).
The perfect harmony that should have reigned among Christians because of their fellowship and unity in Christ has been shattered at Corinth. Chloe’s messengers informed Paul of the factions in the community. After he had left Corinth, other missionaries and Jewish Christians representing different movements that were agitating the Church came to the city. Apollos had made a strong impression on the better educated minority of the Corinthian Christians. Jewish Christians originally from Palestine or Syria boasted of their attachment to Cephas (Peter) and won a following among their Corinthian colleagues. The majority of the faithful, poor freedmen and slaves, incited by the pretensions of the other factions, boasted of their attachment to Paul, the Apostle of Corinth. Was there a fourth faction, a Christ party? Or is the cry “I belong to Christ” Paul’s personal protest against the factions in the community? Commentators show no agreement on these questions. Some see the Christ party as mystics who rejected all human teachers and claimed to be guided by revelations received directly from Christ through the charismatic gifts. Others think the Christ party were Judaizers who had known Christ during His earthly life and now challenged Paul’s apostolic authority.
All this speculation aside, the basic idea which Paul teaches is that the Church is a supernatural entity; it has been founded by Christ, Christ is the head, and it is Christ who governs it through His ministers.
Gospel – Matthew 4:12-23
In the interval between last week’s reading and the one we hear this week, Jesus has spent 40 days in the desert; at the end of which He is tempted by the Devil. Overcoming the temptations, He begins His public ministry.