In yesterday’s Gospel reading we celebrated the Epiphany, in which the three magi encountered Jesus. They left changed, no longer following the light but bearing it. Next Sunday we will recall the Baptism of Jesus by John. Today the daily readings jump ahead to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist has been arrested. He must decrease and Jesus increases.
Jesus inaugurates his ministry echoing the words of John’s ministry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). John prepared the way for the Kingdom to come, Jesus himself in his person is the Kingdom of heaven. Heaven is not so much a place but a state of communion with God, and who better to embody the reality of heaven than the Son of God in our midst. He who remained fully divine, in communion with his Father, while becoming human and living among us.
Jesus proclaimed his promise of the Kingdom to his people who were suffering from their daily ills of poverty, possession, sickness, sin, and oppression from an occupying power. He is the one who has been promised. Jesus is the fulfillment of their greatest hope. Matthew summarized the ministry of Jesus this way: “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Mt 4:23).
Jesus provided hope and healing to a people who were losing hope, a people struggling and in pain. Jesus taught the way, the truth and the life with authority, providing light in a growing darkness. Jesus did so through not only being the Kingdom in their midst, not only being their light to guide their way, but also empowering the people to rise up to be free from their slavery to the sin that kept them bound. He helped them to see that they could not be enslaved by anyone or anything. Jesus helped the people he ministered to see that what kept them bound was their separation from God.
Jesus did not only come to the people of Galilee two thousand years ago. Jesus proclaims his message again to us today, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). There is no better new year’s resolution to begin with than this! Jesus is still present to us, providing hope and healing, providing his presence of love and mercy, providing teaching which shines a light in our darkness, and he is empowering us to receive his gift so that we too can rise up freed from our slavery to our own selfishness and sin. May we decrease so to allow Jesus to increase in us. In this way, we will rise up and empower others as we provide the same presence of love, mercy, and forgiveness with those in our midst.