Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
In Matthew’s Gospel, from which we read today, we hear the first words spoken by our Lord as He begins His public ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Up until this point, Matthew’s Gospel presented us with Jesus’ genealogy, His birth, the story of the Magi, the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, Jesus’ baptism, the preaching of Saint John the Baptist and Jesus’ forty days in the desert. Now, after these introductory stories of Jesus’ life, we enter into His public ministry.
Recall that John had just been imprisoned, thus concluding his public ministry. Therefore, the time for the preaching and ministry of the Son of God had arrived. And though Jesus continues the theme of repentance started by John, Jesus takes John’s words further. Jesus adds something that John could not: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Since we are still at the beginning of the season of Ordinary Time, it’s important to understand this transition from the Old Testament prophets, of which John was the last, to the New Testament preaching of our Lord. The difference is that all that had been prophesied and pointed to in the Old Testament had now arrived. Saint Jerome, in commenting upon this passage, says that as the Old Testament Law ceased, the Gospel commenced. And, of course, the fulfillment of this new era of the Gospel was only a few short years away when our Lord would offer up His life for the salvation of many.
As Jesus begins His preaching, His words are challenging but also very hopeful. By saying that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus stirs interest and holy curiosity among His first listeners. His call to repentance was softened by His new proclamation about the Kingdom.
One helpful insight we can take from these first words of Jesus’ public ministry is that this is the best way to share the Gospel with those who do not yet follow Christ. Oftentimes, when we see someone living in serious sin, we want to judge and condemn. But usually what they need the most is hope—hope that there is something much greater that comes from repentance. Certainly we need to speak against sin. But one of the most effective ways to do so is by initially offering the listener hope of something much better than the sin with which they struggle—specifically, the hope of the Kingdom of God.
Reflect, today, upon the newness of the ministry of Jesus, the newness of the first proclamation of the Gospel. As you do, try to imagine the holy curiosity that many would have had as they first listened to Jesus preach. Soon He would follow up His preaching with many signs and wonders that would confirm His message. But at first, Jesus simply instilled a hope in His hearers. As you ponder this, think about those in your life who also need this initial sense of hope and holy curiosity about the Gospel and pray that God will inspire you and use you to be an instrument of this merciful message.
Lord, as You began Your public ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, You instilled hope and a holy curiosity in the minds and hearts of Your first hearers. Please continue this good work and use me as You will to be an instrument of this hope in those I encounter every day. Jesus, I trust in You.
(Reflection from Daily Catholic Reflections)