Spiritual values will guide us on our way

  • January 16, 2014

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Jan. 26 (Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

It is extremely difficult to be joyful or have hope in the midst of ruin and pain. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali — part of Galilee — had been conquered by the brutal Assyrians around 733 B.C. and made into a province of their empire. The land had been devastated and the northern kingdom of Israel snuffed out. In other words, there was little cause for optimism or joy — the future looked very bleak indeed.

The primary purpose of Isaiah’s words was to bolster the spirit and the determination of the people. Little can be accomplished if people lose heart and give up but miracles can occur among a courageous and faith-filled people. Isaiah assured them that God is in ultimate control of history but much was required on their part. There would be no quick and easy miracles to make everything right. They were encouraged to lift their gaze and to follow a great light — and of course the light was the way of God. It was a call to conversion of heart and mind. The people were to focus on building community and prosperity among their own. Restoration would come in time, for now, great patience, faith and dedication to spiritual principles were essential.

So it is with us, whether the devastation concern an economy, church, family or one’s personal life. It is not a time for despair, cynicism, defeatism or self-indulgence. Healing and renewal begin when individuals or a people focus on spiritual values and start patiently walking the path to the future. Everything ultimately depends on God but by the same token everything is up to us.

Unity is very precious — no community can stand for long without it. Paul devoted his entire letter to the Corinthian community to that theme. The community was torn apart by factions, infighting and selfishness. His plea was that the community be united in the same mind and purpose. This does not mean that everyone must have the same opinion or that dissenting voices cannot be heard. It should not be interpreted as mindless conformity or unreflective obedience. There will always be disagreements and issues to be debated. Paul insisted, however, that everything be done in a spirit of love and selflessness and with the intention of building up the community. Self-advantage or mastery over one’s opponents play no part in this. This is a lesson that is sorely needed in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas today.

Galilee was still under the heel of a conqueror but this time the oppressor wore a Roman uniform. People were once again suffering and the yoke and losing hope. For Matthew’s community there could be only one liberating “great light” coming out of the region of Galilee — and that was Jesus. The ancient prophecy from Isaiah was called into service again, this time to place Jesus within Israel’s salvation history and to give credence to His status as Messiah. The opening proclamation of Jesus’ ministry called for a change in heart and mind in order to be prepared to receive God’s reign. Note that Jesus called the reign of God “good news” — the only ones for whom it might not have been good news were those in power and positions of dominance. Big changes were coming — the great light had come in human form to set things right. The good news proclaimed by Jesus had quite an effect on those around Him. Those whom Jesus first called were willing to literally drop everything, their work, families and way of life, in order to follow Him. We can only imagine the magnetism of His personality and the power of His words.

Today the proclamation does not strike very many people as truly good news. Perhaps this is because we have pushed it into the hereafter — you get to go to heaven when you die. For the first generation of believers, it was good news in the here and now. God has always been present in human history and still continues to work on our behalf. The relevance and wonder of the Gospel for our earthly lives is something we need to recapture and proclaim. Seeking and following the light is as urgent today as it was in the time of Jesus and in Isaiah’s day.