From the theme of “Manifestation to the Gentiles,” on the Epiphany of the Lord, to last Sunday’s theme of the “Lamb of God who takes away sins,” we’re greeted on this 3rd Sunday of the Year with the theme of “light that overpowers darkness.” The arrest of John the Baptist is used by Matthew to introduce this theme of darkness begging for the light which only Christ can bring. Christ is the true light of all nations. He became the light for the forgotten towns of Naphtali and Zebulun. These were called the “Lost Tribes of Israel,” because they were decimated by the Assyrians in 722 BC, but later became influential, because Christ, the true Light of the World, would begin his ministry there and be called “Jesus of Nazareth.” In the first reading and the gospel, both Isaiah and Matthew referred to this city by the original names of the tribes that earlier inhabited it, namely Naphtali and Zebulun. Mere mention of these names would conjure a feeling of dread in the minds of the people who would remember nothing but the assault by the Assyrians. But Matthew, quoting Isaiah, declares the Good News that their darkness has been overpowered by the light of Christ.
In the summer of 2007, it was reported that while a group of tourists were inside the Arch of St. Louis, the lights suddenly went out. Among those trapped in the dark were two children, an eight year old boy and her five year old sister. It was a very scary situation, especially for kids. As the little girl began to cry, her eight year old brother was heard telling his sister, “Don’t worry, Amy! There’s a man around who knows how to turn the lights back on.” As he said this, the lights came back.
Each of us needs a voice that promises hope in our darkness. Perhaps our own darkness is fear, sickness, some hurt or grudge or a pattern of unhealthy behavior in which we’re sliding and using drugs to numb our brain and conscience. Our only help might be a thorough illumination of our darkness, a shining of light to our darkest nights and secrets so they can become cauterized and healed. A question that each of us should direct to no other than ourselves is: “Where in my life do I need some shining of the light of Christ?”
Certainly, we have areas of our lives that need some illumination, without which we may remain in our darkness and confusion. The light of Christ brings about clarity, compassion, love and healing. Gradually, we’ll realize that we have more peace, more joy, more wholeness, and have become more lightsome, and able to fix other minor dark spots both in our lives and those of our loved ones. If we honestly seek him, we’ll realize that He is that man around the “arch of our soul” who knows how to turn on the light and banish our fears.
Cardinal John Henry Newman was someone who knew something about this light, understood it, and sought it himself. During the period when every long distance travel was by boat, Newman was returning from Italy to his native England when his boat was detained in Sicily. There, he fell ill and nearly died. During his convalescence, he penned down a poem that is today used as hymn for night prayer, describing his search for the light of Christ:
Lead kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; lead Thou me on
The night is dark and I am far from home; lead Thou me on
Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see; the distant scene, one step enough for me.
As we enter the week of Prayer for Christian Unity in this cold deadness of winter, we pray for the light of Christ, which alone would lead us out from the ghettos of isolation to the bond of love and unity. St. Paul reprimands us for creating and holding on to factions and claiming that we understand and possess Jesus more than others. After over 500 years of division, Christians of all persuasions must let in the light of Christ to destroy our darkness of division.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo