Light and Darkness

Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Throughout Scripture, this juxtaposition of light and darkness is a theme that often emerges; it serves as a symbol representing the struggle between good and evil. The contrast between the two helps us to better understand the gift of God’s Light and the grace that Jesus brings to our dark, sin filled world. Today’s first reading and our Gospel show how the early Christians understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of many of the expectations of ancient Israel, that He was the One sent to remove the darkness of sin from the world and to bring liberation from oppression and destruction.

In our reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear this famous passage. It says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

Now for a bit of a history lesson. Sometimes, when we read Scripture, we need a little background on what was happening in that specific period to more fully understand the meaning of the message. During the time of Isaiah, Israel was divided into a northern kingdom called Israel, with the city of Samaria as its capital, and a southern kingdom known as Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. If we look at the history of the Jewish people during that time, we see that they were often conquered by other nations. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and, eventually, Roman invaders always came from “the north” in their quest to conquer this land.

Two of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali, were given territory west and north of the Sea of Galilee. Because of that, they were usually the first territories to feel the brunt of an attack from an invading force. In fact, when Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Northern Israel around 720 BC, Zebulun and Naphtali were the first tribal lands to fall into the hands of the enemy. It’s important to note that Nazareth and Capernaum are in that area, which shows us how Jesus beginning His public ministry in that region is a fulfillment of this prophecy that we hear and it is why Matthew chooses to quote this passage in today’s Gospel.

The Gospel of Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience. The evangelist was aware that, in order to reach the Jewish community and bring them to recognize Jesus as the Savior, he had to make the important connections between Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. That is why we see Matthew so often put our Lord in the Old Testament context. The Jewish community that would read this message would know exactly what the Gospel is talking about. They would get the significance, they would understand the meaning.

Jesus is the “light” of hope that was to come. It’s evident through the mighty deeds and miracles that He performed; through His preaching of the Good News, His preaching about the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven; through the calling of His first disciples, the apostles. His message is very clear. He called the people to repentance because the Kingdom was at hand and He invited others to follow after Him so that they could learn how to spread the Good News and live this new life of love and service. That is the same message for us today. It is a timeless message, one that calls each of us to take immediate action.

The call to repentance that Jesus offers goes much deeper than just being sorry for past sins, for past failings, for past mistakes; it’s much more than trying to avoid making those same mistakes again in the future. The requirement that we are given as Christians for repentance is a call for a change of direction. It’s a call for true, life-changing conversion. It’s a call to turn away from sin and to live solely for the Lord. It’s about a radical change in the way we think, believe, and act. It calls us to look at life from a totally different perspective. It’s about allowing the Lord to completely rule our lives. It’s about turning away from living in the darkness and, instead, embracing the light – the light of truth, the light of love, the light of service, the light of hope, the light of virtue. It’s about being a disciple of Jesus.

The call that Jesus gives us to repent is always followed by that call to discipleship. It’s always accompanied by an invitation to follow Him. Like the Apostles, the Lord has chosen us to hear His message of repentance and to radically change our lives in service to the Gospel. We must respond to that invitation. If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, we have to allow that to change us intrinsically. But it also gives us a responsibility of sharing in Christ’s mission. We have to now go out and bring the Light of God to the world.

Today, our world is full of people who are walking in darkness. All we have to do is turn on the news or scroll through social media to see it. So many of our brothers and sisters have embraced the lies that the culture is offering, lies that are constantly seeking to rupture our relationship with the Lord and to lead us astray. Just look at what society is telling us, the confusion it is instilling in so many hearts.

Society is beginning to normalize allowing people to decide their own gender. It tells us that it is perfectly okay to fight for access to abortion or infanticide, that people who are looking to ease their pain through assisted suicide is morally just. We are being told that we should be able to embrace whatever sexual orientation that we desire, that we should be able to participate in sexual promiscuity because it allows us to embrace our authentic and free selves. We are constantly being told that using contraception or that the viewing of pornography is acceptable…and the list goes on and on. All of these things are contrary to the Gospel; they go against everything that Jesus and His Church desire for us.

I realize this might be really difficult for some of us to hear. But I wouldn’t be doing my job as a spiritual father if I didn’t remind us – myself included – of the Truth. If some of us are struggling with those particular things, this isn’t a condemnation. Let me say that again! The Lord, the Church never condemns anyone. Instead, the Lord and His Church are calling us to live by a different standard. We are being called to embrace a different way of thinking. It’s an invitation to embrace true freedom and true authenticity…and that can only be found in Him. We shouldn’t settle for a cheap imitation of truth, of freedom. We must choose to follow the Light – that Light is Jesus.

Jesus is the answer to all of our needs. He is the One who seeks to bring us to liberation from sin. He is the One who was sent into the world, who stepped into the brokenness and the fragility of the world to embrace our human nature and to lead us back to the Father. Today, let’s embrace a new chapter in our spiritual lives. In just a few moments, the Light of the World will be made present in this Church, on this very altar. He again steps into our reality in order to show us that He is the way to freedom. When we receive Him in the Eucharist this morning, may we ask Him for the courage to go out and proclaim the Gospel, to call others to repentance, and to remind the world of the source of our true and lasting happiness and peace: Jesus Christ.

Photo: Cdoncel on Unsplash. Used under Unsplash license.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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