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Victor Cancino, S.J.January 18, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

The metaphor of light continues in this Sunday’s readings. Last week, the image of the sundown twilight in Montana’s Mission Valley helped to illustrate that such majesty must be experienced in person, with no possible substitute through a photo or description. Likewise, the Lamb of God introduces a relationship that must be experienced if Jesus’ divine presence is to bring about change. 

The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. (Mt 4:16)

Liturgical day
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Readings
Is 8:23–9:3, Ps 27, 1 Cor 1:10-17, Mt 4:12-23
Prayer

When was the last time Scripture provided guidance in your life?

Where do you have the opportunity to be light or point to the light for another person? 

Is there anything about your faith journey you are being called to embrace, like teaching, proclaiming or healing?

 

In this week’s readings, a great light like the dawn dispels the darkness covering the land. These images of darkness and light have deep scriptural roots. The contrasting states symbolize the challenge of understanding God’s word and putting it into practice. While Jesus represents the dawn rising over a dark land, it is the disciples that must continue that mission. Darkness, then, represents a place where the mission is lost and the action of God misinterpreted.  

Darkness is highlighted in the first reading and then repeated in the Gospel. Isaiah begins the image, “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown” (Is 9:2). This passage speaks historically of the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom in 722-721 BCE and the hope of a new Davidic king to liberate Israel. Isaiah evokes events from the 8th century BCE, but also crafts images that continue to produce meaning centuries later. Matthew appropriates Isaiah’s imagery and applies it to Christ: “On those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen” (Mt 4:16). The Evangelist draws this language directly from the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, which he knew better than the Hebrew. The Septuagint language intensifies the image and allows Matthew to introduce the theme of life.

This is also a theme in today’s psalm, which puts forth an image of living without fear so long as one walks with the light. “The LORD is my light and my salvation,” reads the psalm, “whom should I fear” (Ps 27:1)? The psalmist goes on to encourage the faithful to dispel any temptation to despair for soon they will ‘see’ the quality of life in the land of the living (see Ps 27:13).  

In this Sunday’s Gospel, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is like the dawn rising over the hills. The growing light of day is Jesus’ physical presence in an actual region. He will walk with folks, and sit with them and live in their communities. This is what light means to Mathew. When Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, they observe the divine light through specific acts of teaching, proclamation, and healing. “He went around all of Galilee,” writes Mathew, “teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Mt 4:23).

The ‘land of the living’ in this Sunday’s psalm is an apt metaphor for a community of disciples who follow the light and foster a community of learning and teaching. The light of Christ becomes a beacon to all when his disciples proclaim his message boldly in their deeds. When Christ’s disciples draw near to the misery of the world to extend his healing touch, the dawn of Christ becomes visible there among them.

This Sunday we are invited to walk in the dawn of a new light. Like the original disciples, as we observe and discern Jesus’ specific actions and words, we can catch glimpses of the light that leads us into the land of the living.

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