Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: 1-22-17
Peace be with You,
Last weekend, we saw that though we have moved on from the Christmas Season and into the season of Ordinary Time on the Church’s liturgical calendar, we have by no means deviated from the path of exploring the depths of the mystery of the Hypostatic Union but had taken a definite step forward by exploring the implication of identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God. Accordingly, we found that in the Lamb’s offering of self is not a simple invitation of healing extended to the human family, separated by God through sin, but a simultaneous invitation to participate in the very life of God by echoing the response of the Lamb, “this is my body, given for you,” to both our God and our neighbor with all that we say and do. Moreover, we found that this echo is not some extraordinary or unnatural response, but instead, such a Eucharistic response is very much in accordance with our nature as it mirrors the response of the Son through whom the human family and all of creation had been created in the very beginning. This weekend, we delve more deeply into the aboriginal quality of this response of the Lamb which we are to live out in our own lives and its implications.
If the first reading from the book of Isaiah sounds familiar, it should, for it overlaps with the first reading used at the midnight liturgical celebration of Christmas. It’s most iconic words are “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Of course these words have great import for who the person of Jesus Christ is, but in order to understand that meaning, let us first explore the function of light in general.
Picture yourself in a dark room. Look around, what do you see? Very little, if the darkness is pervasive and intense enough, you may not even see your hand should you hold it up in front of your face. Consequently, you have very little ability to understand your position with respect to the objects that may be around you. Take this one step further. Say this room you are in is full of people. What impact does it have on your ability to communicate to one another? There is confusion and disorder; deception is easily practiced as there is no way to confirm the identity of any voice. In this setting, the loudest voice is more than likely going to take over, dictating truth to the rest of the group, setting the rules of order arbitrarily according to their liking, disregarding the voice of the most quiet individuals and completely shutting out those who lack an ability to speak, relegating them to some corner of the room where their existence is unacknowledged.
Look around; quite often this fictitious black room is an appropriate description of the world we live in. Upon the façade of an open and bright world where everyone’s opinion matters is cast a shadow of intolerance. Those who sit in positions of power attempt to dictate right and wrong while those who are considered unproductive members of our society are shuffled into the shadows, be it the shadow of a nursing home room, the corner of an urban city, or within their mother’s womb. Their voices are unheard, their presence largely unacknowledged and their future precarious, what shall happen to them in these shadows? Will they ever emerge?
Return to that dark room. What happens when the light goes on? Circumstances change rapidly and dramatically. The truth of the circumstances you find yourselves in is revealed, deception is now not easily accomplished and the presence of all is unavoidable. In short, with the darkness fully dispelled all are confronted with the full force of reality. This is precisely the intended effect of the Light of Life that is Jesus Christ upon our lives. In the prologue of John we are told that what had come to being through the Word in the beginning was life, “and the life was the light of all people,” (John 1:4), while later in the same gospel Jesus himself tells us that ‘he is the light of the world, and that whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). We see here an obvious correlation between light and life, but what is this trying to tell us?
What we see here is a Platonic use of light. What do I mean? Well most simply, in Platonic philosophy, light is a metaphor for knowledge and objective truth. Think here of Plato’s “simile of the cave.” The idea is simply that light allows us to understand by showing us the way things really are. Christianity would pick up on this Platonic use of light to describe the person of Jesus Christ. The idea here is that Jesus Christ reveals to us the objective truth of all things which he alone as the one through whom all things had been created can (John 1:3). Moreover, he does so precisely as complete God and complete man. Thus, in his very person, what it means to be God and what it means to be a creature, and more specifically a human creature is revealed. Consequently, within his very person we see the proper order or relation of things. And what we come to see in Christ is that at the most fundamental level, unity is the basis of all reality; unity between God and humanity and subsequently all of creation, and unity among ourselves as a consequence of that primordial unity.
We see this idea in the work of Augustine, who writes that “because there is but one Word of God, through which all things were made (Jn 1:1-6), which is unchanging truth, in which all things are primordially and unchangeably together…and all are one, and indeed there is but one “one” and one life” (On the Trinity, Bk 4.3). Later, Augustine will add that the darkness of our ignorance was dispelled by the Incarnation of the Light of Truth who taught us that “our enlightenment is to participate in the Word, in that life which is the light of men” (On the Trinity, Bk 4.4). Recall to mind our discussion on the response of the Lamb last week where we said that not only had the lamb come to effect salvation “for us” but to it added a “with us” dimension. We see the same idea being related to us in these words of Augustine, i.e. not only are we meant to be intellectually enlightened by the Truth of the Word, but we are to be metaphysically enlightened, our existence transformed from the division of sin and death to the unity of life and light in Jesus Christ who makes us the light of the world, bearers of this same message of Truth (Matthew 5:14).
Several weeks ago we mentioned that in order to understand our story it was imperative to understand the story of the Jewish people, a story which with the coming of the Son of God Incarnate, the whole human family is meant to participate in (as symbolized by the celebration of Epiphany). We see the importance of that understanding once again today.
From the perspective of the Jewish people, one of the tasks the awaited Messiah was to accomplish was the re-unification of the people of Israel. We see Jesus begin to carry out this task today in his calling of what would amount to twelve disciples, symbolic of the original twelve tribes of Israel. Moreover, the way he carried out this work is somewhat hidden in the details but is greatly significant. To begin we must recognize that Jesus is not concerned with reunifying a national body politic, but instead is interested in reunifying the entire human family. Now, notice his methodology when doing this. He begins the project of reunification in Galilee, specifically in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. These were the first two regions to be invaded and exiled by the Assyrians from 733 to 732 BC as they were the northernmost regions of the country. Thus, we see here that Jesus begins to reunify the people with those who are furthest off historically and geographically from the minds of the people whose central focus was Jerusalem, the city of the temple where God dwelt. Therefore, in his very methodology Jesus is signifying that he intends to draw all people to himself, even those who are furthest away from God and from the interest of the people, the ones who are ignored and cast out as an insignificant part of society.
My friends, we are called to carry out the mission Peter, Andrew, James and John are called to today, and we are called to carry out in the same way Jesus did, beginning with the least so that all may be joined into the primordial unity of God and creation. We do this by responding to his call as we see these first four disciples do, i.e. immediately, because we recognize in him the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) and therefore desire all to experience what he holds out in offering, fullness of life in unity with him (John 10:10). Moreover, as we are sent out to be fishers of men, we carry with us our very persons as our nets, who with the mentality of the Lamb offer our very lives as a gift of love to all we meet in the hopes that all may be one (John 17:21) and share in the splendid light that is the life and glory of our Creator (John 17:22-23).
Your servant in Christ,