Sunday, January 26, 2014

Of Space & Light (Rerun)

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Picture: cc [kerwin]

Sisters and brothers, have you ever come across people fighting over space of some sort? Maybe a seat on a train? Or a parking lot in church? Have you ever wondered what can be done to reduce such conflicts? Even to do away with them altogether?

I’m reminded of the story of a king who wanted to see which of his three sons was wise enough to succeed him. So he called all three to his throne room to test them. To each one he handed a bag of silver, telling them to use the money to buy something that could fill the whole room. Which was enormous. The eldest son returned leading wagons laden with stones. But these were not enough to fill the room. The second son came back with cartloads of sticks. But these too were not enough to fill the room. When it was the youngest son’s turn, the king was surprised to see the boy arrive empty-handed. The prince reached into his robe and pulled out a candle. He placed the candle in the middle of the room, and then lit it with a match. Very quickly, the light from that single candle succeeded where the many sticks and stones had failed. It filled the entire space.

Don’t you find it amazing, sisters and brothers? How light can succeed so easily where solid objects struggle and fail? And there is, of course, an even more amazing difference. When we fill a space with solid objects, we are left with less space for other things. But this is not the case with light. I can switch on as many lamps as I want in this space, but I never have to leave it. Light never occupies space to the exclusion of other things. Unlike solid objects, light fills without occupying. It brightens without excluding.

It’s useful for us to keep this in mind, on this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, because our Mass readings are all about space and light. In both the first reading and the gospel, we find a people living in a space that has been occupied by someone else. In the first reading, the Assyrians have conquered the territory of the people of Israel. And, in the gospel, the Romans have done the same. In the midst of this political darkness, it is natural for the people to look toward a brighter time. When the foreign invaders will be driven out. And it seems that this is exactly what the prophecy foretells. The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light. A king will soon arise who will finally break the rod of foreign oppression. Drive out the invaders. Reoccupy the land.

But it’s quite clear that this is not what our readings mean to us. In the gospel, the coming of the light is associated with the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. But Jesus does not call for the overthrow of Roman rule, but for the conversion of human hearts. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. The darkness that Jesus comes to dispel is, above all, a spiritual one. Like the youngest prince in our story, Jesus comes to fill the land not with the sticks and stones of rebellion, but with the light of repentance. While the use of sticks and stones would bring only more violence and conflict, the Light of Christ shines out with mercy and compassion. With reconciliation and healing. We’re told that Jesus went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people. Jesus fills the whole space of Galilee with his healing Light. And he calls others to join him in doing the same.

In the second reading, we find St. Paul calling for this same movement from sticks and stones to the Light of Christ. According to Paul, the Christians in Corinth are experiencing conflict and division. And the reason is simple. They have carved up their community into solid opposing factions. When people claim that they are for Paul, they mean that they are not for Apollos. And vice versa. By using the names of the apostles in this exclusionary way, the Corinthians are really filling the space of their community life with the violence of sticks and stones. They are acting contrary to what Jesus preached. They remain in spiritual darkness. Which is why Paul reminds them that, instead of competing with one another for human respect, they should be united again in their belief and practice. They should be filling the space of Corinth with the healing Light of Christ.

And this is, of course, not an easy thing to do. It is not easy to move from conflict to compassion. From hurt and anger to healing and reconciliation. From the violence of sticks and stones to the gentle Light of Christ. It is not easy, because the way of Christ is also the way of humility. Of self-emptying. The way of the Cross. In today’s gospel, for example, the Light begins to shine out at a very particular moment. We’re told that it is upon hearing that John had been arrested that Jesus begins his public ministry. It is precisely at a time when it is dangerous to be a prophet, that Jesus decides to become one. And he chooses to do this not just at a particular time, but also in a particular place. We’re told that Jesus went back to Galilee. A place that was under the control of Herod Antipas, the same person responsible for having John the Baptist arrested. And who would eventually have him beheaded. For Jesus, the way of Light is also the way of the Cross. To choose to live in the Light is also to choose, in some way, to die. To die to myself. To die, in particular, to the endless demands of my ego. Even as it keeps trying desperately to fill itself with the sticks and stones of material possessions and human respect.

But still, as difficult as it may be to choose the Light, it is not impossible. For although the Light of Christ does not occupy physical space in the world, it has the mysterious power to make space within our hearts. Especially when I gaze at Christ, as he hangs upon the Cross. And when I recall that he hangs there for me. To save me. To love me. I begin to find in myself the traces of a desire that is deeper even than my desperate craving for wealth and power and recognition. The psalmist describes it as a desire to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. A desire to live in the kingdom that Jesus proclaims in the gospel. The kingdom of Light, of Justice, and of Peace. The kingdom where all are welcome. Where none are excluded.

Sisters and brothers, some of us may still remember that well-known story of the spiritual master who once posed this question to her disciples: How do you know when the night is ended and the dawn is breaking? One disciple answered: It is when you can tell, from a distance, whether a car is a BMW or a Mercedes Benz. Wrong, replied the teacher. It is, answered another disciple, when you can tell from a distance whether a block of flats is a BTO or a luxury condo. Wrong, said the teacher. You know that the night is over, and the dawn is breaking, when you can look into the face of any other person, and recognise there the face of your sister or your brother. Until you can do that, the light has not dawned upon you. You remain walking in the dark.

Sisters and brothers, what will it take for the dawn to break, for the Light to shine, in our hearts, in our homes, and in our world today?


  1. This is one the reflections that has ever touched my life

  2. O Lord of Heaven and Earth,

    You are LIGHT ETERNAL and in Your LIGHT, there is no darkness.

    Lord, may You dispel all my fears, doubts and darkness so that Your LIGHT can forever shine within me.

    May the flame of Your LOVE and LIGHT burn unceasingly within me for as long as I live.

    May we who follow You become Your Light in this world of darkness, sin and strife.

    Like a beacon in the night,
    may we bring hope to the hopeless,
    joy to those in sorrow and despair
    and Your peace to all we meet.

    Come Lord Jesus -
    Come and Dwell in us, in our homes and in our world.


    Seeing is Believing
    27 January 2014 9.25pm

  3. O Lord of LIFE and LIGHT,

    7 days ago, I lost a good friend and... today, I heard news of another demise....

    Lord, when Lazarus died, You were with Mary and Martha and Your Presence brought much comfort and consolation to them.

    May I ask You to be present with me and all who mourn the loss(es) of those we love who had gone before us... May Your Presence be just as comforting and consoling to us, as it did for Mary and Martha who mourned the passing of their brother, Lazarus.

    Lord You are the RESURRECTION and the LIFE -
    may we who believe in YOU live forever in YOU.

    May Your LIGHT within us never be extinguished.

    Grant us O Lord Your Light, Your Life and Your Grace to remain faithful to You, always.


    Seeing Is Believing
    29 January 2014 1.45pm


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