Where the Light Gets In: 2nd Sunday OT

We just heard the same words twice, in the First Reading from Isaiah and repeated by Matthew in his Gospel. Isaiah promised that the Land of Zebulon and Naphtali would see a great light, and six hundred years later Matthew remembered that promise and claimed it had come true when Jesus walked that seaward road and settled in Capernaum. Matthew does a lot of this in his Gospel. As he’s telling the story of Jesus, he throws in these side notes about how Scriptural prophecies are being fulfilled all over the place.

Bishop Fulton Sheen noticed that there’s a beautiful conversion there for Matthew. When Jesus found Matthew, he found him at the tax collectors’ table, collaborating with the Romans and so labelled as a traitor to Israel. But after meeting Jesus, Matthew is the proudest son of Israel! More than any other Gospel, he focuses on, delights in, rejoices over, the way that God has kept His promises to Israel. Maybe because Matthew had been unfaithful to his people, he was especially appreciative and sensitive to God’s covenant faithfulness. Bishop Sheen used Matthew and other Biblical examples to show how conversion to Christ often involves our greatest faults becoming our greatest strengths.

We find a similar contrast in Isaiah’s promise that the people dwelling in darkness would see a great light. Of course, lights seem brighter the greater the darkness around them. I think there’s a really common mistake that we Christians make about this. It starts when we find a contrast between the light we long for in Christ and the darkness we find within us, whatever about us is ugly and stupid and dark, and it can take us to that place of guilt and shame. So we run from the darkness and try to hide from it. It’s the basic move beginning with Adam and Eve hiding from God after their sin. It’s dumb, but we do it. We try to hide from God and hide from ourselves the things about us that are ugly and stupid and dark.

Adam and Eve Hiding From the Lord, Gustav Doré

 But that’s the opposite of how Jesus works in the Gospels. From the basic fact of His incarnation, to the details of how He went about His ministry, Jesus doesn’t refuse to deal with darkness. If anything, He heads straight for it. Maybe if we want to be close to Him, we shouldn’t be running from our own darkness. Maybe we should be looking for Him exactly there. Like Matthew, in our weakest and darkest parts, maybe that’s exactly where the light of Christ is ready to shine.

After quoting the prophecy of Isaiah, Matthew writes that Jesus began to preach, and his description of his message is short and to the point. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” How you feel about being told to repent is probably related to whether you’re able to face your own darkness and meet Jesus there. If you’re full of shame and embarrassment, “Repent” probably sounds incredibly negative. We hear this all the time, that huge cliche about ‘Catholic guilt.’ You know who talks that way? People who’ve skimmed across the surface of Catholicism and never seen the heart of it, who might say they were ‘raised Catholic’ or went to Catholic school but never really met Jesus. And their experience of things sacred and holy is all about guilt and shame.

But to those who actually do the repenting, and invite Jesus into whatever darkness we may have, it’s the most joyful good news! The choice to repent is the incredibly optimistic belief that things can be better, that we can be better. It’s the ability to face the whole truth about who you are, not in fear and shame, and not in resigned apathy, but in hope. It’s the trust that the light of Jesus Christ will shine in any darkness, even mine.

We start every Mass with this. I can imagine how it seems to the ‘Catholic guilt’ people when almost the very first thing we do is the penitential rite: The Sign of the Cross, ‘The Lord be with you’… now THINK ABOUT YOUR SINS! But pay attention to exactly what’s said: “Let us call to mind our sins, to prepare ourselves to…”

… remember the word there? “To prepare ourselves to celebrate.” We rejoice in having met Jesus in our darkness. What joy, what freedom, in being able to come here and stand before the altar in all our weakness, with all our pasts, as who we really are. What a relief to stand here among all of you, not having to pretend I’ve got it all together, not having to put on a hypocritical facade. Here I am, I’m a sinner. Oh, you too? Well, here we are, as who we really are. To celebrate!

As today’s passage concludes, Matthew describes the call of four other Apostles — not tax collectors, but fishermen. Jesus asks Simon and Andrew, James and John, to follow Him. And once they start following Him, He starts sending them. The ones who received Jesus as a light in the darkness are now sent into the darkness of others. That’s what our lives are meant to be. We can only share the light if we have ourselves received the Lord. And if we have truly received the Lord, no power on earth and no power in hell could stop us from wanting to share that light. And it will make us more merciful and less judgmental with other people. If we’ve met Jesus in our own darkness, we won’t be afraid to walk with others.


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