THEME: GREAT LIGHT FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS
READINGS: Isaiah 9:1-9:4 / 1 Cor. 1:10-13, 17 / Mt. 4:12-23
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first reading mentions the twin towns of Zebulun and Naphtali (cf. Isaiah 9:1-4). These towns were within the then Northern Kingdom of Israel. At the time the prophet Isaiah spoke, the Northern Kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians. Literally, then, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali were in darkness. It was in that situation of darkness that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed a message of hope: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a GREAT LIGHT” (Isaiah 9:2). In other words, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who were experiencing the darkness of defeat would one day experience the light of God’s liberation.
The people of Zebulun and Naphtali understood the message of liberation proclaimed by Isaiah. This was because, they could recall that when God was delivering their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, He provided them with a protective light as they made their journey to the Promised Land. For instance, when the Egyptian armies chased the Israelites close to the Red Sea, God made “the pillar of cloud … move from in front [of the Israelites] and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long” (Ex 14:19-20).
Furthermore, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali knew that the light of God was not only protective but liberating as well: “by day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night”(Exodus 13:21) to their land of freedom.
Having settled on the land of freedom for centuries, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (including Zebulun and Naphtali) lost the protective light of God, as a result of their sins or deeds of darkness. Thus, as mentioned already, the message of the prophet Isaiah assured his people that they would experience the liberating light of God provided they acknowledged their sins and repented.
Providentially, Jesus, the light of the world, would appear in the twin towns of Zebulun and Naphtali. This, St. Matthew rightly saw as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Hence, he wrote: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali …the people who sat in darkness have seen a GREAT LIGHT” (Matt. 4:15-16).
As sin was the cause of the darkness in which the people of Zebulun and Naphtali found themselves, the very first word of Jesus’ message to them was: “repent”. As at the Red Sea, on one side of the pillar of cloud the Israelites had light, but the Egyptians on the other side were in darkness, so in the time of Jesus, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who repented experienced the Great Light (Jesus), but those who were un-repented remained in darkness. It is like people outdoors are experiencing the full effect of sunshine, whereas those in a “dark room” (of developing the films of photos) are not.
Jesus is not only the Great Light to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali; He is indeed the Great Light of the whole World (John 8:12; 9:5). Except for the 3-day eclipse of His death which occurred long time ago at Calvary, the Great Light of Christ has been shining brightly for the past 2,000 years; and it will shine forever! However, many in the world are not experiencing the full effect of the great Sunshine of Christ, because they are in the “dark room” of sin (while it is still broad day light). Beloved, let us heed the voice of Christ who says, “repent”! To repent is like walking out of the “dark room” into the sunshine (outside). Beloved, St. Paul reminds us of some of the deeds of darkness which we have to walk away from: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21).
Beloved, when we repent of such deeds of darkness and walk into the broad day light of Christ, we can see clearly enough to catch a glimpse of the glory of heaven. Thus, Jesus does not simply say, “repent” but, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17).
Finally, beloved, I pray that as we walk out of the “dark room” of sin, we will experience the sunshine of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). And that as we continue to experience this sunshine, we will ultimately enjoy the heavenly love, joy and peace, which we now see from afar. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis