My friends, the theme of the past few Sundays continues again today—if we wondered about being called to be “lights” to our world—whether in fact that is true; we can wonder no longer—because once again it is all over the Scriptures today—as Jesus’ followers, we must walk in his footsteps and shine light into the darkness of people’s lives.
The prophet Isaiah and the psalmist today sharpen our ideas on just what “light and darkness, salvation and refuge,” meant and how all of this instilled great trust in them for a God who watched over and protected them. The 23rd psalm in the Scripture translation, The Message speaks well to this notion—of their God “chasing after them all the days of their lives,”
Each of us can attest to times of “light and darkness” in our lives, so we have a sense of what Isaiah meant when he spoke to the people about these concepts. The Israelites often experienced the attacks of enemies—the Assyrians from the north, for example. When Isaiah wrote this passage, there had been dark times for the people. They had watched as their lands were divided up by their conquerors. And, as with ups and downs in our own lives, the tables turn at one point and the Israelite people come out for the better. Isaiah reminds them that in all of this, their God was with them. We sang of this in our opening hymn, “God of Day and God of Darkness.” The joy the people feel is akin to what they know—the joy of a good harvest—of a job well done. We might add, the birth of a baby, a family member finally landing a job.
For this people there was the sense that one never saved one’s self—salvation or deliverance came out of the goodness of another. Our faith tells us the same. Our psalm response today which we sang beautifully, “You are my light and my salvation; of whom should I be afraid?” speaks well to the fact that our God is always with us. For the Israelites, “dark and light” were key ideas. The dark not only represented an unsafe place, but the forces of evil. In our day, the dark might still convey such thoughts, especially of “unsafe places” when we are in strange, dark areas, alone.
But “light” was seen as the force that dispelled any danger. Psalm 27 is all about the overriding theme of trust in God who dispelled all darkness and evil. All the prophets for years had prophesied that the Messiah would come and that this One would be a “Light” to the Nations.
There is also the aspect of “refuge” in Psalm 27—trust in this good God not only for salvation from evil, but a sense of protection, “May I dwell in your house all the days of my life?” This statement-question really, not only meant the actual house of prayer, the synagogue, but in the broader sense, the psalmist was asking for an intimate relationship with God. I think we can understand this desire as one that we all share—to know our God ever more completely. I think each of us has that innate longing to know and understand who God is and in the words of St. Augustine, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
In our own, everyday lives, to know that we are loved and cared for by others is so important and because of this purely, human gift of love, the idea that God could and does love us in the same way is a concept much easier to grasp than for some people who haven’t been loved and cared for in the same way.
This past week, I worked a few days at the hospital and nursing home covering for a colleague who is on maternity leave. It has been a great joy to step back into this ministry again after being retired for almost two years. Whether in hospital walking with people who are chronically or temporarily ill, or in the nursing home with people facing the sunset of their years; I have always felt that I have the responsibility of bringing them the face of God and if I can do that, then it may be easier for them to believe that God loves them in the same way.
The theme of “light” and “shining that light” continues in the second reading too. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is all about helping this people to keep focused on their mission—to live in unity and in love—they can’t do that through petty squabbles he says. Interesting that Paul gets his information about the strife in Corinth from a woman, Chloe, by name who is apparently head of a household and perhaps an elder in the Church there. Paul seems to have no trouble taking the word and counsel of a woman—he is also willing to work with women for the good of the Church. Clerical men of today—take heed!
In essence, the Corinthians seem to have trouble keeping their eyes on Jesus, a problem we all struggle with at times. Paul sets them straight by basically saying—no one can take Christ’s place—he is the light we need to follow. Again, we need to think about what Jesus would do in any situation and then do likewise.
This thought moves us right into the gospel message. Matthew proclaims the establishment of Jesus’ ministry on earth. With John’s arrest, Jesus knows that John’s time is over and his has come. We might think that Jesus’ leaving for Capernaum when he hears that John has been arrested is a sign of fear in him, which would be natural, but actually, it’s not fear, only the realization that he needs to begin his own ministry apart from John’s even though his message will be the same as John proclaimed—“Repent, for the kin-dom of God is here, now!” And in that time there was no better place than Capernaum to begin—a place which was at the crossroads of all trade with Damascus, Syria and Phoenicia. Capernaum was a seaport town in the region of Galilee. If Jesus really was afraid, he would have gone to his hometown of Nazareth instead of setting up his residence in a strange place where no one knew him.
It is important for us to understand as much as that is possible, the mind of Jesus so as to get the full import of his actions. Part of Jesus’ going to Capernaum was to establish his ministry, but also because the people in the region of Galilee were the first to experience the darkness of being overrun by the Assyrians, and it seemed appropriate that this people should be the first to have the “light” shine upon them. And as usual, Jesus gets right to work—he teaches in the synagogues, he proclaims the Good News, and cures those suffering from disease and illness. In addition, this gospel is a wonderful one for us to look at as we reflect on the whole aspect of “call.”
Diane Bergant, scripture scholar tells us that we should not miss the radical nature of the response of Jesus’ first followers. She reminds us that they were not beggars, but gainfully employed in one of the most stable businesses of the time—fishing. They gave up a great deal to follow him. The gospel tells us that brothers, James and John left their father to follow Jesus and in their culture where family ties were everything and loyalty to one’s father, so important; this was quite a gift!
We have to believe as we consider this scenario, because Scripture doesn’t do a psycho-emotional review for us, that Jesus must have been such a compelling presence to make these first followers realize that this was all they could do—all, in fact, that they wanted to do—to leave everything and follow him.
When I think of my call to seek ordination to priesthood in a Church that does not see women as legitimate nor acceptable in this role, I find myself and other women like me in the same place as those first disciples. Knowing that there would be opposition and those who wouldn’t understand, I/we knew we must do it just the same—we couldn’t say, “No” to the Spirit of Jesus, calling. And it is also good for us to remember that Jesus’ first followers didn’t go to him—he went into their lives, their space, and called them there, as he calls us!
Jesus calls each of us, friends, not all as radically as these first ones or others since, but yet each of us has been called; that is why each of us claims to be a Christian today. We are called from something to something else. For some the call is very clear– others perhaps have experienced an un-ease in their life and ask—“What do you want of me God?” They may have a sense of God tracking them down.
Each call is individual—our God calls us as we need to be called—we are called from something, to something. Most of us are called to live within our life situations, with the call being more about leaving pettiness, meanness, backbiting, absolutizing the Gospel, behind, and taking on mercy, love, justice—a sense of care for all.
Diane Bergant says, in the long run, it is much easier to leave one’s nets behind than one’s prejudices. She goes on and I paraphrase; if we can do that, we will live lives of servanthood, we will proclaim the gospel through our lives in public and in private, we will move to heal dis-ease in body, mind and spirit of those that we meet, we will work for peace and justice unrelentingly—as I think we will need to do these next 4 years, we will respect the struggles and commitments of others, we will in fact be a light in the darkness—we will be continuing in our time, the ministry of our brother, Jesus, the Christ. May we each have the strength and perseverance for this awesome task!