Light For the Darkest Places
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, January 20, 2013
I want to backtrack to last week’s Gospel reading so, let me read it. It isn’t long.
Matthew 4:12-17 (Sunday after Theophany)
At that time, Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth He went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
On the Sunday after the Feast of Theophany we read from St. Matthew’s Gospel about how the people “who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” specifically those who dwelt in the “land of Zebulon and Napthali the Galilee of the Gentiles.”
A more literal interpretation tells us that Jesus brought the Light of Love into the darkest corners of the world, into those places his own people did not believe the Light would shine, that is, to the Gentiles. If Jesus took on human nature itself, then the light shines in every human being and therefore in every land. That is what our theology teaches us.
Going a little deeper we know that our responsibility as followers of Christ is to take the light we have “received” into the dark places in our families, communities, and society. The Gospel has social implications we ignore far too often. Jesus says that we will be judged if we do not care for the “least of the brethren” who are listed as the sick, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison. Of course, that list is not exhaustive. And when we do care for them we are caring for Christ Himself who became for us and remains for us, as He says, “the least of the brethren.”
Going one step further, into a psychological interpretation, we come to see something wonderful and frightening. Let’s quote Professor Jung.
“What if I should discover that the poorest of the beggars and the most impudent of offenders are all within me; and that I stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I, myself, am the enemy who must be loved -- what then?”
The answer to “What then” is this. We need to recognize the beggars and offenders inside of us and meet them with compassion, tend to their wounds, draw them close to us, and transform their sadness into joy. This is probably the hardest thing of all to do because we have spent so long ignoring the sorrowful voices within and trying to drown them out with video games and alcohol and sex. We discover them when we are alone and the world is quiet and suddenly we hear them and they frighten us. We cannot drown then out forever. We try to run away, but we cannot run forever. We think death will end them? No, it won’t. We will take them into eternity with us and there is nothing there but beautiful Silence. In heaven those voices will sound like cathedral bells. Our wounds must be healed and they will be either here or there.
The final revelation is this: the “beggars and offenders” that haunt us within, they too are Christ. He has identified himself with them and so must we. Another scriptural metaphor for the dark lands of Zebulon and Naphthali is the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Psalm 23. There the Lord prepares a table for us in the presence of our “enemies” which is a metaphor for the “least of the brethren.” Who is more “least” in our eyes than those who hate us? At this table we are to invite them to eat with us and at this table we are called to serve them. Then our “enemies” become our friends and more: we see them for what they are. They are also us.
Now, one more thing before I close. We hear at the end of this reading Christ’s first recorded sermon. It is short and simple. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent of what? Repent of the belief that the kingdom is not “at hand.” We think repentance is a making a list of sins and confessing them before God. Well, yes perhaps on a very superficial level, but there is far more to it than that and if it remains there we will never get anywhere.
The root of the problem of sin is that we have been taught and believed the lie that the kingdom is somewhere else, off in the future, that there is a safe distance between us and the kingdom, that there is enough time in life for us to live a life that doesn’t take the kingdom into consideration. But it is consistent with Orthodox interpretation that Jesus did not come to bring the kingdom, but rather to reveal its eternal presence. The kingdom is the very heart of the whole of creation. It is said that when the Buddha reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree he touched the earth and creation burst into flower. When we see the kingdom everywhere, then we see that the whole cosmos is Communion.
Where God is there is the kingdom and God is everywhere. Repentance is a change of mind from believing that God is not everywhere, that He is where we want Him to be, in our little boxes, in our grand churches, in our ethnic communities and not in those “dark places” where people worship God with strange names and their faces are different colors and beliefs are odd and suspicious. In the end the only thing that matters is that we wake up to the fact that God’s light in shining now in all the earth and that allow it to penetrate to the very depths of our unconscious.