Today’s reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”
Today’s Gospel begins with, “Jesus heard that John had been arrested,” and it ends with “From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” John preaches the message of repentance for salvation, Jesus took up the mantle and message, and that message has been faithfully passed on by the Apostles and to us in every generation. What a gift! What a responsibility! Don’t drop the baton!
The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali were among the Northern and Westernmost kingdoms of Israel. They were the first to be invaded and conquered by the Assyrians, and were thought of as “less than” when it came to holiness and God’s love. And yet, the prophet’s words are echoed in Matthew’s Gospel today, namely that, “those who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Even the least on earth and in human minds have God’s light and love showered upon them. The kingdom is here and the kingdom is theirs too, if but they repent.
My brothers and sisters Jesus brought the good news of salvation, the light to the darkness, with conviction and power. He was able to help people see that today’s circumstances do not determine a persons destiny. That’s good news. People without hope found it in him, and find it in him still.
I meet students everyday who desperately need to hear this good news. As a public school administrator, I don’t enjoy the luxury of telling them that Jesus loves them, but I DO get to say, “Repent, there is yet good news for those who change their ways.” And that good news is needed news for everyone.
Every day God blesses me with students, and often parents, who sit in darkness. They are getting suspended, receiving detention, have to have a discussion about truancy, or of failing grades. Sometimes they are homeless, food less, and without resources and basic needs. I may just put a poster up in my office that reads, “Welcome to Zebulun!”
The good news is that, “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.” I try very hard to always make this my message, and it must be on the lips of every Christian.
We are hope-full, hope-filled, positive people. We are a resurrected people–an Easter people. We know that this present suffering is not the end! We know that our Lord rose again, conquering darkness, sin, and death. And that’s our message: there is hope for those who repent and actually hear the good news!
As a Holy Family that must also be our message at home. We know too well that life brings with it struggles, and darkness, and mistakes, and suffering. As an administrator, my office is the land of Zebulun, but as a parent, “Welcome to Naphtali!” From poor grades to poor results in competition, from an earlier-than-wanted bedtime, to doing chores, and from making ends meet to making time for prayer and meaningful experiences of God, families often find themselves in darkness.
The struggles at work and the problems at home all have but one answer, namely, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The most important part of that, I think, is to repent. Jesus said it first, and I think it must happen first. To repent is to change one’s mind, one’s attitude, and maybe even one’s whole way of living. If we’re going to see and experience the light of the kingdom, we must turn away from darkness toward that great light. Period. That’s it, and there’s no way around it.
That message of repentance and a change of one’s ways is not easy (I know from personal experience) but it is necessary. It’s just as difficult today as it was in Jesus’s day. In a world that tends to relativize everything from opinions to actions, repentance can become a none-sense word, as it suggests a “right way” of being. It demands an acceptance of real darkness and real light. John boldly challenged his hearers to recognize darkness and light, and even more so, to believe that Jesus is that light–the light of the human race.
Those who followed Jesus believed in darkness and light, and they grabbed hold of the baton from John and followed Jesus. Holy families today grab the baton of truth, and light, and goodness passed on through the apostles, and they pass it on to their own children first, and then to everyone they encounter in their lands of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Grabbing the baton is essential. Like a runner, if we do not first take hold of it ourselves, we will not have it to pass on to others. Each of us must repent. Each must identify the darkness in our personal, social, and professional lives, and turn toward the light. When we do so, we will not only be living in the light, but will be more authentic witnesses to others.
The truth is that we are the residents in Zebulun and Naphtali, we must see and turn toward the perpetual light of Christ, and invite our coworkers, family and friends to experience the same. The Kingdom of God is indeed at hand, grab hold of it, run with it, and pass it on to others. Amen.