January 22, 2017
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
Light Makes Things Grow
What one book have you learned the most from in your life? Who wrote it? How often do you read or consult it now?
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” because “truth and beauty surround him.” To keep singing a new song, we have to keep entering into new truth, new beauty: the “Beauty ever ancient, ever new” that St. Augustine wrote of. We can find him, the Word, in his word. St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Can we also say that to stop reading Scripture is to stop growing in knowledge of Christ? Not absolutely, but with truth enough to make us pause.
In the (alternate) Opening Prayer we say to the Father, “The love you offer always exceeds the furthest expression of our human longing, for you are greater than the human heart.” Then so is his truth and his beauty. The Prayer continues: “Direct each thought, each effort of our life so that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory.” Is this not a reason to keep reading his words? Psalm 119 says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
John’s Gospel begins by presenting Jesus, the Word of God, as the Light that is Life: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The Prayer after Communion echoes this, asking: “May the new life you give us increase our love and keep us in the joy of your kingdom.” We who by Baptism received the divine life of Christ share in his act of knowing, his light. This is the source of our love and our joy. And it is inexhaustible.
Three in One
The Responsorial (Psalm 22) declares the theme of the first reading and Gospel; “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Being “saved” is linked to knowing. Light and life are joined in Scripture, as are darkness and death.
Isaiah 8:23 to 9:3 is giving a preview of the coming of Christ when it declares: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined.”
If we keep reading we come to what Christians read as a description of Jesus:
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
Life is ultimately pretty simple. Everything important is found in one word: “Jesus.” If that sounds like something a fundamentalist would say, then give the fundamentalists credit! Hebrews calls Jesus “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” To know him is to know God. To know God is to have eternal life — which is more than “everlasting life.” Only God’s life is eternal, without beginning or end, and this is the life we share by the “grace [favor] of the Lord Jesus Christ.” God, and Jesus as God, is the “A” and the “Z,” the “Alpha and the Omega”:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.... See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
So if we are united to Jesus as members of his body and sharers in his divine life, what are we missing? The answer to this could actually be, “life to the full!”
We can share in Christ’s life without sharing it fully. We can have human life also without being fully alive. We all have more latent talents than we have developed, more potential than we have actualized. We may be impeded by internal or external obstacles from functioning fully in body or mind. The same is true of the life of grace, the divine life that is ours “in Christ.” There is nothing lacking in the Life itself, but we may not be living God’s life “to the full.”
This is where light comes in. We grow in God’s life by growing in his light. This presumes we are living by what we see, of course; the essence of all real growth is love. But to grow in love we need to grow in light. St. Augustine said, “We cannot love what we do not know.” It is through increasing familiarity with and understanding of God’s word that we “see” the Word made flesh and come to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
St. Paul wanted his converts’ “hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they might have all the riches of assured understanding and... knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
So we can add a third word to make the “trinity” of Christian essentials. They, like the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, are distinct from each other but inseparable in their authentic being: Life (from the Father), Light (from the Son), and Love (from the Holy Spirit). And all of these come through Jesus Christ.
The Good News
Matthew 4:12-23 quotes the Isaiah text above to introduce Jesus’ own proclamation of the Kingdom: “A people living in darkness has seen a great light. On those who inhabit a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.”
To respond to the Good News is to welcome the light; to open our minds and hearts to it; to “reform our lives” by what it enables us to see.
Doesn’t it follow that the sign we really believe in the Good News, that we appreciate it — in short, that we have truly been “evangelized” — is that we continue to welcome the light, continue to open our minds to it through reading and reflection, through listening, discussions and prayer? Is it too trenchant to say that if we are not disciples — that is, students — of the mind and heart of Christ, we have never been evangelized? Even though we may have several years of Catholic education and go to Mass every Sunday?
Does this explain why four of the last popes have called for a “new evangelization”? Does it make it less surprising — in fact, make it almost a foregone conclusion — that a large percentage of those brought up as Christians will no longer “assemble” with the believers? Or that those baptized and committed as Catholics are deserting to “evangelical” churches who have less mystery to impart, but who give what they have with greater enthusiasm and joy?
In the light of this, would it sound radical to say that Jesus’ exhortation to “Reform your lives” in order to accept the Good News might be, for many of us, an either-or invitation to make reading and reflecting on the Bible a part of our daily life? An invitation extended which, if rejected, means we just won’t “enter into the kingdom of heaven”? By our own choice!
Let’s put our cards on the table. Is this the same as saying that if we don’t read the Bible we are going to Hell?
Some people might identify entering into the Kingdom with entering into heaven. That is not the intent of what is written here. It is not excluded that people can be “saved” without really experiencing the Good News, or even consciously knowing that they have heard it! But to really “enter the Kingdom” in its full sense means to encounter Jesus personally, to receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” to take on a whole new understanding and level of life, to experience the “love, joy and peace” that are the “fruit of the Spirit,” and to be filled with the zeal for spreading the Good News that characterized the life of the early Christians.
And it means to go beyond a religion of doctrines, rules and practices, no matter how conscientious we may be about them.
No one was more “orthodox” than the “chief priests and elders.” But Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” These are the ones who are presented as opposing Jesus every time they are mentioned in the Gospels.
No one was more law-observant than the Pharisees. But Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
No one had more prestige and political influence than the Sadducees, who were the “priestly aristocracy and their supporters,” including “the conservative class of landowners and merchants.” But Jesus warned his followers against them and may have had them in mind when he said, “I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
It does give us something to think about.
“To each person…”
On top of it all, even the most active religious people sometimes fight like cats and dogs. In 1Corinthians 1: 10-17 Paul appeals to the charismatic Corinthians “that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” Scripture should unite us to Christ and one another, not divide.
Has anything written above changed your mind about Scripture reading?
Put your Bible on your pillow. Never go to sleep without reading at least one line.