Sunday Sermon for January 22, 2017, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23

In the first reading we hear Isaiah’s prophecy that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. St. Matthew uses this same verse in his Gospel, which we hear today, to make the point that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. He is, as St John says, the light that came into the darkness and the darkness was not able to overcome it.

I find Matthew’s adjustment of the prophecy rather intriguing where he changes the “land of gloom” into the “land overshadowed by death.” The areas of Zebulun and and Naphtali had been repeated plundered over the years by the various armies marching through the area. The area between the eastern point of Mount Carmel and the western side of Nazareth is known as the plain of Megiddo. This was an ancient battlefield and also the area known as Armageddon. The area was located fairly centrally between Assyria to the North and Egypt to the south, so it made for a convenient place for opposing armies to do battle. For this reason there was a lot of gloom and a lot of death associated with the area.

In his First Letter St. John refers to Jesus as the light of life. In the midst of despair and death, our Lord brings light and life. This is critical in a time like our own where we live in a country and in a world where putting innocent people to death has become the norm. With well over a billion surgical abortions throughout the world, even more contraceptive abortions, a growing euthanasia movement and the massive numbers of martyrs, death and gloom are all that some generations of people have known.

It is also interesting to note in the Gospel reading today that immediately after St. Matthew speaks about our Lord being the light in these regions of darkness and death, the next sentence Jesus is calling people to “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Not only do we see the contrast between the light and the darkness, but we also see the contrast between heaven and earth. Earth is covered with the darkness of sin and death by its own free choice; Heaven is about life, truth and love by God’s design.

When our Lord came as light into our darkness, He brought heaven to earth. In His call to the people to repent we see that He gives us a choice of whether we want the light or the darkness, of whether we want heaven or earth. I think it is also important to realize that the choice given to us is made while being surrounded by darkness. As street light provides some clarity in the night time, but if we are trying to get somewhere, we do not stop and remain in the light; rather, we venture into the darkness as we continue our journey.

The difference here is that while we are surrounded by darkness, we realize that there are only two paths to choose. The dark one leads to perdition while the light one leads to life. Right now it may appear that the darkness is pervasive, but it all moves in one direction. Unlike the example of the street light above, the light is neither localized nor is it stationary. At the same time, the darkness is not like the nighttime where our destination requires us to travel through the darkness to reach our goal.

No, in this case, both the light and the darkness are dynamic, but they move in opposite directions. For those who want to go to Heaven, there is not need to enter into the darkness of sin and death in order to reach our goal. All we need to do is remain in the light because the light is focused and points in only one direction. The same is true of the other side. People who choose hell do not have to cross into the light to reach their destination. This means we have to choose which we want.

Confusion and division are both examples of spiritual darkness. St. Paul condemns both in the second reading. If our focus in on Jesus Who is light and truth, then we will be united in truth once we have been enlightened by it. Today we have so many people claiming to believe in Jesus while rejecting the elements of the truth. This means they are rejecting Jesus. They have chosen darkness while claiming to walk in the light. Corinth of old and the Church of today have some similarities. Paul would condemn the divisions; Jesus calls us to repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven. You choose: darkness and death or light and life?

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit