Saturday, January 21, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Most Mysterious Physical Reality

Have you asked yourself what is the most mysterious physical reality? After running through the indefinite number of phenomena that the sciences study I have come to the conclusion that light is the most mysterious physical reality.

Without light nothing worthwhile can be done. We cannot see anything. We cannot move from one point to a farther point in space. Light is a most obvious reality. Every morning we wake up to it and every evening we close our eyes to it. And yet the most learned scientists – and there are very many of them - have not yet concluded their study of light. For many centuries, even before the birth of Jesus, it was thought that light was a particle, like a baseball that emanates from its source to an object. Then in the seventeenth century it was found out that it also behaves like the wave of an ocean. So for another set of centuries it was debated whether light is a particle or a wave. Today most scientists agree that light is both a particle and a wave. And they also agree that sometimes light does not behave like a particle or a wave. So what is it? They agree that it is electromagnetic radiation. But this makes it too complicated for us to understand. It is indeed a mysterious reality.

What most people are not aware of is that there are two kinds of light, one that is visible to the human eye and another that is invisible to the human eye. The light from the sun and the candle is visible to the human eye. But there are x-rays, infrared rays, ultraviolet rays that are not visible to the human eye. Some of these rays are visible to certain animals but not to human beings. A light that is not visible? We thought light is visible. But science tells us there is invisible light, like the light that can see through our body but we cannot see it, as in an x-ray. Light indeed is mysterious.

Another mysterious thing about light is color. All the colors are in the ordinary light that we see but we do not see these colors unless we use a prism. All the combinations of colors, from the most simple drawn by a crayon to the most elaborate drawn by electronic lights and fireworks are all in the ordinary light that we see. But thank God we do not see these combinations of colors in the ordinary light, otherwise we would be dizzy from viewing all these mixtures of colors. Light is indeed a mystery,

Ordinary, physical light is already a mystery. Our Gospel reading today compounds this mystery because it applies this physical reality to a person, Jesus, the son of Mary. How can a person be a light? Is it true that a person can be a light? That is what our first reading and our Gospel tell us. Light can be a person, the person of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

In the Gospel today Matthew identifies Jesus as the light predicted by Isaiah the prophet. He wrote, “He (Jesus) left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” The context tells us that this great light is Jesus who in Matthew’s narrative begins to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Our first reading gives the prophecy of Isaiah about this event. He wrote, “First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road, the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles. Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

As we can observe Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy is not word for word but the idea is there that a great light has come upon the people living in the land distributed to the two sons of Jacob, Zebulun and Naphtali.

Certainly this did not mean that the people saw Jesus like a candle walking around or like a luminescent figure going around. Some commentators say that the message of Jesus gave light to the lives of the people living in that region, guiding them in their life. But Matthew is clear, the people have seen a great light, not the people have heard a message which enlightened them concerning their affairs in life.

Jesus is indeed light. John’s Gospel is more explicit. It describes Jesus as “the real light which gives light to every man” (1:9). In two other places John records Jesus as saying, “I am the light of the world” (8:12 and 9:5). And in the first letter of John God is equated with light. God is light; in him there is no darkness (1:5).

How is Jesus light? There are at least three ways that Jesus is light.

He is light because he made light. He is physical light. Today our main source of light is the sun. But a time will come when Jesus himself will be our physical light, what the sun is to us now. In the Book of Revelation it is written that the lamp of the future world is the lamb of God who is Jesus. There will be no need for the sun and moon there because its physical light will be Jesus. (21:23). Perhaps this is the reason why scientists cannot determine definitely whether physical light is a particle or a wave or what else other than particle and wave because Jesus the Son of God is in this physical light.

Jesus is light because he enlightens our mind. Light enlightens us. Jesus enlightens our mind. John describes Jesus as “the true light that enlightens everyone” (1:9 in Christian Community Bible). He is the logos, the word, the idea that enables us to understand all the ideas we have. All the branches of sciences are made possible by his enlightening the minds of all those who study these sciences. Jesus is the light of our mind.

Thirdly Jesus is the light of the heart. He enlightens our hearts to prepare them to accept his message and himself. He is the lamp shining in our heart to make us love God above all things. The Bible with our Church tradition is written with words. Jesus enlightens our mind to understand these words as part of a language. But he also enlightens our hearts to receive these words with humility, real understanding and love which produce joy in our hearts. He does this through his Spirit whom he poured upon us.

We almost forgot the second reading. The reason why it is put there is because unless Jesus as light enlightens us and unless we receive the full light of Jesus our churches will always be divided. As in Corinth the church was divided into factions. Some said they followed Paul. Others said they followed Apollos. Still others said that they followed Cephas or Peter. Then there were those who said they followed Christ in contrast to Paul and the other apostles. There were divisions because they did not possess the full light of Christ. Jesus enlightens our minds and hearts to accept other Christians who do not think and feel as we do. In this regard we can imitate our Pope Francis who accepts Christians of other churches as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

For our prayer today we will borrow from the poem of St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love. Jesus is that living flame which enlightens our heart. We take the first, third and fourth stanzas. Let us bow our heads in prayer as you join me in praying this prayer.

O living flame of love
That tenderly wounds my soul
In its deepest center! Since
Now you are not oppressive,
Now consummate! if it be your will:
Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
The deep caverns of feeling,
Once obscure and blind,
Now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
Both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
You wake in my heart,  
Where in secret you dwell alone;
And in your sweet breathing,
Filled with good and glory,
How tenderly You swell my heart with love. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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