“The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has risen.” St. Matthew chooses these words referencing the prophet Isaiah to describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. St. John uses a similar phrase in the prologue to the fourth Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus is, in himself, the light of the world who dispels the darkness.
The light becomes visible when people encounter Jesus, hear his words and respond to the encounter. At the beginning of the public ministry Jesus proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ call is one that urges people to open their hearts to God’s mercy. An open and humble heart recognizes the need for God, for his mercy and ultimately for his love.
As we go through life, we recognize that darkness represents the things that bind us or hold us back from the truly good. Inherent in Jesus’ call to repentance is an offering of light. God’s light is the only power strong enough to lift us up to experience his love and mercy and thereby dispel the darkness.
After Jesus makes his initial proclamation, he begins to gather people to himself. He says to Peter and Andrew: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Walking along farther he likewise calls James and John. The first four disciples represent the seeds of the church.
Jesus is the light of God’s love. He shares that light with his disciples and gives them the responsibility to carry it forward by being “fishers of men.” In this role, which will come to full fruition after Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, the saving proclamation and invitation is carried forth and handed on generation to generation. As these disciples are appointed apostles, Jesus sends them forth to different lands and peoples so that all might know this one light and share in its brilliance.
The call of the first disciples in the Gospel reminds us that Jesus gathers us together around himself and forms a community. This community will be bound together in the communion of divine love through the paschal mystery. St. Paul speaks of this communion in his First Letter to the Corinthians. The passage for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the beginning of the letter where Paul admonishes the Corinthians for the factions that have formed among them. The divisions created around different persons or leaders damage the communion established by Christ.
Division within the communion is like putting a dark shade over the light. The light still shines but if it cannot be seen its effects cannot be realized. Hence Paul writes: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”
The light who is Christ shines brightly. The passage from Isaiah that serves as the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy notes that with the light comes joy. He says: “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as a people make merry when dividing the spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”
Jesus is the light who brings joy. In this joy we make the psalmist’s words our own: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”
We are a people, a communion of faith bound together in and through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We are the people who have seen a great light. The light is Christ Jesus.
As we offer our thanksgiving today, we thank the Father for the gift of his Son, the gift of light. We ask him, through the power of this light, to dispel any clouds that might hinder the light from shining on us and in our lives. We ask at the same time that the light may shine in us so that others might rejoice in his love and know of his mercy.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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