God's Word on Sunday: God’s light can shine in darkest times

  • January 19, 2020

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

Light and darkness are two of the most powerful and frequently used symbols in the Scriptures. 

Darkness can signify chaos, destruction, sin, judgment or the absence of God. There is more than enough of this in biblical history and as well as in our own time. Overwhelming darkness requires strength and effort to be joyful, hopeful or glad to be alive. Many people experience these things in their own lives — tragedy, illness, deaths, failures and a surrounding cultural gloom can squeeze so much out of the human soul. But that is only part of the picture. 

The deepest darkness is only the preparation for the brightest light. God is light, and God will continually shine that great light into the darkest corners and crevasses of human existence. 

To remain mesmerized by darkness and fixated on the gloom is in a sense to deny the existence of God. 

The people of Galilee — the lands of Naphtali and Zebulun — had been devastated by the destruction of their land by the Assyrian war machine in the late eighth century BC. The northern kingdom of Israel had ceased to exist as an independent nation. For the survivors it seemed like the end of the world. But the prophecy urges them to look beyond the immediate reality to God’s horizon. 

Assyria’s power and dominance would eventually come to an end and the land would experience peace and prosperity once again. They were to push back at the darkness by living in hope, believing that with God all things were possible. When this was to occur was not given — God’s timetable is usually significantly different from ours. 

As we face the darkness of our own time and the hopelessness and despair that it generates, we need to revisit that prophecy. It applies in all times and places. Not only is God light, God is also liberation and justice. 

Throughout the peaks and valleys of human history, God continually illuminates the darkness. Handwringing and looking for scapegoats to blame are not acceptable or helpful options. Disunity, polarization and separation seem to rule our own age, but this is not from God, nor is it God’s will. It is strictly a human production — something we have learned to do all too well.

To the fractious and divided community in Corinth, Paul writes that they should be united in the heart, mind and purpose of Christ. Aggressive competition and rivalry lead to the disintegration of human community, as they were soon to find out. 

This unity is foolishness, of course, to those committed to a worldly way of living. Foolishness is nothing less than the cross of Christ, doing things God’s way rather than our own.

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything exceptional about Jesus withdrawing to Capernaum after the arrest of John the Baptist. But since this area was also the legendary lands of Naphtali and Zebulun, the evangelist made an immediate connection with the prophecy from Isaiah. 

The centuries-old prophecy was given new life, since the movements and actions of Jesus were all seen as fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew diligently anchored Jesus in the Jewish tradition and portrayed Him as the foretold Messiah. 

God’s great light had once again entered this land and restoration and blessings were close at hand. The people should rejoice, renew their hope and commitment, and prepare to receive the light. 

Jesus called various people busy at work earning a living — Simon Peter, Andrew and the brothers James and John. He uttered a simple command: Come, follow Me! And they did so, without so much as properly taking their leave. 

What force or attraction did He or His words have? They sensed the presence of the light. It was not a rational decision — they felt something overpowering and joyful tug at their hearts and souls. 

They knew it was time and they were not disappointed. He began to cure every kind of sickness, all the while proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. 

The light is active and dynamic and must always be shared. If we attune ourselves spiritually, we, too, can be sensitive to the presence of God’s light in our world. 

The light is coming — in fact, it is already here for those who can see. Let us recognize and embrace it.