The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand

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Sexagesima Sunday
Third Sunday of the Year A

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Zebulun and Nephtali

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (Is 9:1). The day of Midian (Is 9:4). Names of places that are familiar to us, and yet strange. We know them not only from today’s First Reading, but also from Psalm 82: “They plot against your people, conspire against those you love. . . . Treat them like Midian. . . . Make their captains like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunnah” (Ps 82:4, 10, 12).

The Day of Midian

The most obvious connection between today’s First Reading and Gospel is geographical. Our Lord inaugurates His preaching of the kingdom in the very territory signaled by Isaiah’s prophecy. The “land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the land beyond the Jordan” is a half-Jewish half-Gentile region. It is a foreshadowing and type of the Church wherein both Jews and Gentiles will emerge from “deep darkness” (Is 9:2) to contemplate “a great light” (Is 9:2). The cryptic allusion to the “day of Midian” remains. What does it mean?


The day of Midian is linked to the vocation and ministry of Gideon; the vocation and ministry of Gideon prefigure the vocation and ministry of Jesus. The seventh chapter of the book of Judges relates that, “the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezirites were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali; and they went up to meet them” (Jg 6:34-35). Three things are worthy of note: 1) the role of the Spirit of the Lord, 2) the sounding of the trumpet, and 3) the repetition of the formula, “called out to follow him” (Jg 6:34-35).

The Spirit of God

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “the Spirit of God” descends like a dove and alights on Jesus (Mt 3:16); the same Spirit leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mt 4:1), that is, into combat with the powers of darkness. The preaching of Jesus in Galilee is like a trumpet blast; He announces the kingdom: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Then, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John (Mt 4:18, 21). The Gospel resonates with the words twice repeated in the book of Judges, “they were called out to follow Him” (Jg 6:34-35).

The Dew and the Fleece

Gideon, for his part, asks for a sign; it is given in the dew that, mysteriously, covers first the fleece of wool, leaving the ground around it dry, and then covers the ground, leaving the fleece of wool untouched (Jg 6:36-40). This is, of course, one of the many passages that give dew its rich biblical significance: it is a symbol of the power of God, of the action of the Holy Spirit in the secret of the night, revealed only in the morning light.

The Dew of the Holy Spirit

The Second Eucharistic Prayer uses the image of the dew in the Epiclesis. “Haec ergo dona, quaesumus, Spiritus tui rore sanctifica” (EP II) — best translated as, “therefore, we pray, sanctify these gifts with the dew of your Spirit.” The dew, which the Father sends in response to the invocation pronounced by the priest, is the Holy Spirit. The dew of the Holy Spirit penetrates the oblations of bread and wine, and transforms them into the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Victory Belongs to God Alone

Confirmed in his mission by the sign of the dew, Gideon sets out to attack the Midianites. You know the rest of the story. It pleases God to demonstrate that the victory belongs to Him alone, and to no other. God instructs Gideon to reduce the number of his troops. Twenty-two thousand return home, and ten thousand remain. “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people are still too many’” (Jg 7:4). Finally, with a mere three hundred men, Gideon defeats the Midianites. “And they took the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb” (Jg 7:25). From there, Gideon goes on to capture and put to death the princes Zebah and Zalmunnah (Jg 8:21).

My Grace Is Sufficient For Thee

What then is the meaning, for us, of “the day of Midian”? Gideon’s victory was not the result of human might, nor of the strength of a great army, but of the power of God. It speaks to every situation of human weakness. It speaks to all who are few in number and poor in the resources that, normally, portend victory and triumph. The Responsorial Psalm is, in every way, as fitting on the lips of Gideon and his army of three hundred, as on the lips of Our Lord and of His disciples in every age. “The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? Expect the Lord, do manfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord” (Ps 26:1, 14). All of this is confirmed in the words of Our Lord to Saint Paul: “And He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Cor 12:9).

Come, Follow Me

Today’s Introit and Communion antiphons twice repeat the words of Our Lord in the Gospel —”Come, follow me” (Mt 4:19). The deeper sense of this repetition is that the Church wants us to hear Our Lord’s call. On this Sexagesima Sunday, we do well to remember that when Christ calls, it is always into to the mystery of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

The “day of Midian” points, ultimately, to the “Day of Christ: the first day, the eighth day, the day of resurrection.” The call to discipleship is a summons to combat with the powers of darkness; the preaching of the Kingdom is the trumpet blast of a victory already given us in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.

That the Power of Christ May Dwell in Me

Like the disciples of Gideon called out to follow him into the victory of Midian, we, disciples of Christ Jesus, are called to follow Him out of darkness into the defeat of death by death, and the triumph of life. Fragility, poverty, and limitations of all kinds, far from being an obstacle in the path of victory, are what make the victory possible, “lest the cross be emptied of its power” (I Cor 1:17). “Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Cor12:9-10).

Life’s Own Warrior Slain, Yet Lives to Reign

The call to discipleship summons us now to the Altar of the Sacrifice. There, the Spirit is poured out like dew; there the whole Mystery of Redemption is made present: death and life, Cross and tomb, combat and victory. In its own lyrical way the Sequence sung on Easter morning becomes an ode to “the day of Midian,” fully realized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: “Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando: dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus. Death with life contended, in the combat strangely ended! Life’s own Warrior slain, yet lives to reign” (Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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