As Christmas comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord – which we celebrated this past Monday – we begin what the Church calls Ordinary Time. It is called “ordinary” because the weeks are numbered in order – 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. It is time – usually 33 weeks – ordered by God’s grace in between the sacred seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. The priest wears green vestments. Our church’s Christmas decorations have come down and we all have returned to a regular home, work, and school schedule.
Ordinary Time, however, is not at all plain and simple. On the contrary, as we come together to worship God week after week, we are given the opportunity to explore all facets of Christ’s life rather than just celebrating and delving into one aspect: His birth, as we did during Advent and Christmas, or his death and Resurrection, as we do during Lent and Easter. What could be ordinary about exploring the full sweep of Christ’s works and teachings? The green of Ordinary Time, like the green of nature, encourages us to grow and mature in our faith. As the color of hope, it also calls us to anticipate the gifts of God’s kingdom.
We are living in a time that most of us would agree is anything but ordinary. While we may be slowly recovering from a worldwide coronavirus pandemic, we all feel the effects of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the wild swings in the weather as a result of climate change. Our nation and our world are struggling with the extreme edges of society and politics disrupting the lives of the majority. We need the order that God has intended from the beginning and see what happens when we disregard his order.
The Church provides us with a sense of order during this Ordinary Time, presenting our Lord’s ministry and teachings in an orderly way. And, as I noted at the beginning of Advent, we are hearing about our Lord primarily from the Gospel of Matthew throughout the Sundays of this liturgical year. Each of the years in the Church’s three-year Sunday cycle features one of the three Synoptic Gospels. Year A, which began on the First Sunday of Advent, features the Gospel of Matthew, year B features the Gospel of Mark, and year C features the Gospel of Luke. This cycle allows us to hear each gospel, which presents our Lord’s teachings in slightly different ways since each gospel was written to different audiences at different times under different circumstances and for different reasons. The Gospel of John is also featured on certain Sundays throughout the year as well as on the first Sundays of Lent and during the Easter season.
The Gospel of Matthew is generally thought to be written at least after 70AD and probably after 80AD (40 to 50 years after our Lord’s death and Resurrection) in Antioch, Syria. Like the gospels of Mark and Luke, it was written as the eye-witnesses of our Lord were dying and they wanted to preserve the important message of salvation they had received from him while he was in their midst. Like the other gospels, the text of the Gospel of Matthew does not identify the author. Although it was traditionally thought to be Matthew, also known as Levi, the tax collector-turned-apostle, modern scripture scholars identify him as either a Jewish Christian or a Gentile Christian, not an eye-witness to Jesus’ ministry. Intended for Jewish converts to Christianity who were being persecuted by both Jews and Romans, it seeks to encourage them to be confident that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures prophecies. It encourages us in the same way today. As we return to Ordinary Time, we come together as God’s people to listen to his message that can order our lives and our community of faith in his ways.