Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23
I am reading a book by Father Greg Boyle. Father Greg is quite well-known, having started a very successful outreach program in Los Angeles called Homeboy Industries to help former gang members and substance abusers turn their lives around. He is also a good storyteller. He tells a story, early in his career when he was a teacher at a high school in LA, of reading the Sunday paper and relaxing after Mass at the Jesuit residency with another priest named Al. I will let Father Boyle tell the story: “[We] had our coffee and were silently turning the pages of the paper when the doorbell started to ring repeatedly. Initially, Al and I hid behind our papers, waiting it out. The doorbell rarely rang, but when it did, it was almost always some homeless person. Finally, Al, the way better man, quietly put down the paper. There was no annoyed sighing (though who would blame him?). Some ten minutes later he returned, sat down, took a sip of coffee, and resumed his reading. After a few beats I asked, without lowering the paper, “Well?” “Well what?” Al replied, not lowering his paper either. “Who was it?” From behind the sports section he said, “Jesus, in his least recognizable form.” [Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017, p. 77]
Some Sundays, the theme of the readings is subtle, and other weeks there are multiple competing themes which make it hard to nail one down. But this week it comes through loud and clear: Jesus as the light of the world. Isaiah in the first reading heralds the savior, as he does throughout his prophesies: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.” [Isaiah 9:1 NABRE] The Gospel quotes that same passage from Isaiah that is in the first reading, and thereby Matthew is spelling it our for us in crystal-clear language: Jesus is the Christ, the fulfillment of the prophesy, the light of the world.
Well, there is it. Case closed. I can sit down now. All we need to do is live out our lives basking in the glow the light of Christ. Well, life is more complicated than that, I’m sure we would all admit. Right after the first part of the Gospel about Christ being this great light, Matthew tells us about Jesus calling this first disciples. And we all know that even for those with the earthly Jesus guiding them personally, even for the special twelve that spent the most time with him, it wasn’t all clarity and light. Simon Peter will do all sorts of things that he will be rebuked for: denying Jesus three times [all four Gospels], told to “get behind me Satan” [Mark 8:33, Matthew 16:23], fished out of the water when he tries to walk on it but has a crisis of faith [Matthew 14:30-31]. James and John will be caught by the Lord worrying about who will sit on his right hand in the Kingdom of Heaven. Or at least that is Mark’s account – Matthew’s account is that James and John’s mother was the one worriedly asking the Lord about that [Mark 10:35-37, Matthew 20:20-21] Saint Paul in the today’s second reading is dealing with problems that have beset the Corinthians. This reading begins only ten lines into the letter, right after the opening salutation, and he already launches into a lecture about getting along with each other.
If the Son of Man is the light of the world, why do we have such problems seeing it and acting accordingly? We believe that Jesus is the Savior, and want to follow his teachings, or at least say that we do. We are not liars – we believe in what we say and in our commitments made at baptism. So why is it so hard? Father Greg would tell us that we are often willingly blind to seeing Jesus in our world, in the here and now. We think that the light of Christ is the promise of heaven. Of course it is that, but it is so much more than that. It is a light here on earth, in the present, in our lives as we live them every day. It is not that the light of Christ is not still here with us. It appears dimmer because of the blinders that we ourselves put in front of our own eyes and the eyes of those around us. We are often preoccupied with the past, angry or shamed about things that happened or didn’t happen, or worried about the future, with its endless possibilities for either good or bad outcomes. Christ’s message of hope and love gets lost in this forest of emotions and concerns.
Father Greg ends the chapter in which he related the story I cited with these words: “In Advent time, we are reminded over and over again: ‘Stay awake.’ This is not a warning that death is coming but a reminder that life is happening. Now … is the day of salvation. We see as God sees: with amplitude, wideness, and mercy. The only moment left to us to participate in this larger love, this limitless, all-accepting love, is in the present moment.” [Ibid, p. 90] Father Greg’s summary is beautiful, and is the same as what we just read in the Gospel, the words of Christ, which is an even more beautiful and simpler summary: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” [Matthew 4:17b NABRE]
As we continue with our Eucharistic celebration, let us ask the Lord to help us, as he did Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, to become fishers of men by living our lives by his light, in the present, loving God and neighbor. Let the communion that we receive be the grace we need to carry out his will, and let our blinders be not against God’s light but against the distractions of this world to that light. May we see Jesus in everyone we encounter this week, even in those who hide their Godliness in the most unrecognizable of forms.