2005—Third Sunday in Ordinary Time —A
Bringing Light into Darkness
The Gospel today focuses on Matthew's account of the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. It tells us that Jesus goes forth from his home in Nazareth to a region of Galilee that the Jewish people regarded as on the edge of their religious world. Jesus goes forth from his home in Nazareth to Capernaum in "Galilee of the Gentiles"-a land of outsiders. It is the region of Zebulun and Naphtali that Isaiah saw as living in a kind of religious, cultural, and political darkness. So when Jesus goes there Matthew tells us that "people who sit in darkness have seen a great light"; and that "those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen."
These words call to us to follow Jesus on the path of bringing religious light to people who do not yet have it. Jesus preached the coming of God's reign in these outsider regions and called the people there to repent and change their lives. We are called to follow Jesus in making this missionary proclamation. Jesus called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John, and said he would make them fishers of people. Jesus wanted them to become missionary apostles who would call people to repent just as he called them. Jesus wants us to do that also.
This call to missionary activity presents challenges to us today. Many Americans think that people who stand on downtown corners with bullhorns calling others to repent are probably a bit crazy, maybe very crazy. Indeed, one of my social science colleagues at BC has done major surveys that show that most Americans are deeply averse to trying to change the religious beliefs of their neighbors. Most people in the U.S. say they believe in God, but also that they won't publicly disagree with another's faith. To say at a party that someone's religious convictions are wrong is the ultimate conversation stopper. In a world where wars often grow out of religious disagreement, respect for people with beliefs different from ours is certainly a high value.
What can it mean, then, to say that Jesus brings light to people living in darkness and that we are called to do this too? The Second Vatican Council provides some guidance in its "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions." Echoing the book of Genesis, the Council insisted that God created the whole human race and that God's saving care extends to all people-not just to Christians. So our respect and care must extend to all people also, not just our fellow believers. Further, all religions seek to answer truly basic questions about the "inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence and about where we come from and where are we going?" The Council affirms that the great world religions all contain "rays of truth" that must be respected by Christians and from which Christians can learn. It explicitly mentions Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism and says that the Catholic Church "rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions." It calls on Catholics to enter into "dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions" and to "recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral" found in these faiths.
What can this mean about our call to share in Christ's mission to bring light to those in darkness? I have two reflections. First, the God who is at the center of Jesus's proclamation is the God who is already present in the lives and hearts of all people. The God of Jesus is a God whose love, care, and compassion are already reaching out to every human being, even before Christianity has come on the scene. Belief in a God like that could never be proclaimed by people who arrogantly think they are the exclusive objects of God's love. Still less could faith in the God be brought to others through coercion or religious war.
Second, Jesus proclaims that God is truly the God of the whole cosmos and that God's love extends to every human being. It is those who do not know how deeply God cares for them who are living in darkness. Our mission is to bring to light God's love for all, especially people tempted to despair over the conflicts and apparent meaninglessness that sometimes overshadows our lives. Proclaiming God's love for all, as Jesus calls us to do, bring real light into darkness. It makes us truly followers of Jesus-light to the world. So let's pray together that the light of God's love will rise in our hearts and that we can share it with others.
David Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church January 23, 2005
Isaiah 8:23-9:3, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17, Matthew 4:12-23