Lighting the shadows

What was the greatest (though some might argue worst) invention that changed human life?

Artificial light – whether oil lamps, candles, incandescent electric lights or LEDs… We can provide a means to see in the midst of the dark.

For thousands of years people had to stop activity for the night when it got dark and they could not see. The work day was determined by the amount of daylight. My garndfather, born in the 19th century on a farm in Western New York spoke of working “fron can’t see to can’t see!”

Over centuries the darkness of night became a metaphor for the unknown, the eerie, the power of mischief and evil… for ignorance and waywardness.

Thus the reading for Epiphany 3 from from Isaiah rejoices that people who formerly had darkness not have seen a great light – it has shined on them and brought joy.

The letter to the Corinthians is one we should be able to relate to given the past election and present political season.  This small struggling Christian community in Corinth was divided into factions, with disagreements, dissension and quarreling. Paul in his letter calls them to a new way of seeing – inviting them away from the shadows of partisanship into the light of Christ – by their baptism through which being baptized into Christ they have been given an agenda and proclamation that even now gives us the power of God to guide our choices and the will to continue and to endure.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, following his Baptism by John – Jesus remained in the south until Herod had John arrested. He then left for the Galilee which was out of Herod’s jurisdiction. Jesus made his home in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Kenneserit or the lake of Tiberas). Here as in other places Matthew shows a fulfillment of the Old Testament through Jesus by using the quote from Isaiah to indicate the Jesus is the new light dawning in the darkness.

Jesus movesinto this freer more open environment to gather disciples and begin his mission of preaching and proclamation.  Matthew gives us the summary of Jesus proclamation –– “Repent – for the kingdom of God has come near you.”  Turn back to God, he tells people.  This proclamation indicates one does not find the kingdom of God in Jerusalem, or in heaven, or some distant place – the kingdom of God is near wherever you are. It is around us, it is within our sight, and within our grasp if only we recognize it. The kingdom of God is here for us to live into and create.

Jesus bring light into the murky world of religious thought of the day.  In those days if your life was drudgery, or pain, or illness or poverty – religious thought day said it was because God was not blessing you… in essence it is your fault.  Like the prosperity Gospel we are again hearing about in recent days – saying if you have wealth it is because God is blessing you. The only significant problem is that if one looks at Jesus’ life we do not see prosperity, wealth or any other signs of blessing that particular theological stance says is an indication of blessing.

Living into and creating the kingdom as Jesus presents it is a not a solitary enterprise. We cannot do it alone. We know that because Jesus newly moved to the Galilee begins to look for people to work with him in this effort. Who was Jesus looking for ? Not the ones the populace would have expected. Not the wealthy, not the religious elite? Definitely not those we might describe as self-made or people of influence.

Jesus walks the shore of the lake and invites the laboring professional fishermen. These men went fishing every day for as long as it took to being in a catch that would feed them, their families and if possible with some with which they could sell or barter with others. Recreational fishermen use a hook & line. But that is not an efficient way to fish professionally.  They used a drag net and sometimes a casting net we have reference to in the Matthew’s Gospel.

It seems likely to me that Jesus has seen them before and perhaps had spent time talking with them. This moment in which he asks them to follow makes more sense and does not seem so impetuous and hasty if they knew about him and what his mission was.  He comes along and asks them to follow him telling them they would “fish for people”.

Now what in creation does that mean?  I have heard it explained as they were to hook people, or bring them unwillingly into the kingdom; but that just does not fit! So I believe what is being said is that they have gifts and skills that will be valuable in this new work.

They had patience – to be able to wait for the right moment to throw the net, or haul in the drag net. They would need patience in their dealings with the crowds.

They had perseverance. They went out day after day even when they had no had success the day before; even in bad weather, even when they were tired and sore and discouraged.

They knew that you had to use the right bait. When dealing with different people – different concerns, questions or ideas that matter to them. They would need to be adaptable – to know what they needed to say in order to illustrate to them that the kingdom of God was indeed near.

They had courage. Galilee is a small lake and it is not very deep and is surrounded by tall hills they call mountains. A storm can come up off the hills quickly and the lake becomes rough on a moments notice. To be out on that lake in a small sailboat in the midst of storm required courage and keeping a level head.

So fishing for people, I believe,  meant using the gifts these fishermen already possessed to use in the service to spreading the Good News of God. Jesus shone a new light on who they were, what they could do, and the meaning it could have in their lives and the lives of others.

The question I ask that we ponder this week is “in what way is God calling you – me – each of us to use our gifts in new ways to bring light to the darkness & shadow places around us?”  And how can we help invite others to find that light that illumines our hearts & lives?

“On those who sat I the shadow of death on them light has shined…”

May we be bearers of the light!  


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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