Close to twenty years ago now, my home parish put on a production of the musical Godspell, and I ended up being part of the cast. If you’ve ever seen the musical, you know that it is based on the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel that we are reading during this Church year. I remember the first song of the musical was kind of strange to me at the time. It’s called “Tower of Babble” and the lyrics are a hodge-podge of lots of philosophies and philosophers throughout time. I didn’t get, at the time, the significance of the song, but I do now. “Tower of Babble” represents the many attempts to come to understand God and thus to come to some kind of control over him, over time. It shows how philosophy at its worst has been an attempt to figure out God by going over God’s head, by leaving God out of the picture completely.
The song ends abruptly and goes right into the second song of the musical, “Prepare Ye,” of which the major lyric is “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The author’s view seems to be that the useless, and in some ways sinful, babbling of the philosophers was once and for all settled by Jesus Christ. So if we want to know the meaning of life, if we want to know who God is, we have only to look to Jesus. And that’s what our recent celebration of Christmas has taught us: Jesus is the human face of the invisible God, come to be one of us, incarnate among us, so that God’s presence could be revealed in the world once and for all and for ever.
That’s what is happening in today’s Liturgy of the Word too. The people in the first reading and in the Gospel have found themselves in darkness. Zebulun and Naphtali have been degraded. They have been justly punished for their sinfulness – the sin being that they thought they didn’t need God. They thought they could get by on their own cleverness, making alliances with people who believed in strange gods and worshiped idols. So now they find themselves occupied by the people with whom they tried to ally themselves. Today’s first reading tells them that this subjection – well deserved as it may be – is coming to an end. The people who have dwelt in darkness are about to see a great light.
The same is true in another sense for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel. These guys have been fishermen all their lives. Further research in the Gospels would lead us to believe that they haven’t been all that successful at fishing at that! But the point is that fishing is all they’ve ever known. These are not learned men, nor are they known for their charisma or ability to lead people. But amazingly, these are the men who Jesus calls as apostles. We aren’t told if these men have knew anything about Jesus, but on seeing him and hearing him and recognizing the Light of the World, they drop everything, turn their backs on the people and work and the life they have always known, and follow Jesus, whose future they could never have imagined.
All of this is good news for us. Because we too dwell in darkness at times, don’t we? We can turn on the news and see reports of men and women dying in war, crime and violence in our communities, and corruption in government. Then there is the rampant disrespect for life through the absolute horror of abortion, which we remember in a special way this week on the thirty-eighth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal. We also see darkness in euthanasia, lack of access to health care for the poor, in rampant hunger and homelessness, in racism and hatred, and so much more. Add to that the darkness in our own lives: illness of a family member or death of a loved one, difficulty in relating to family members, and even our own sinfulness. Sometimes it doesn’t take much imagination to know that our world is a very dark place indeed.
But the Liturgy today speaks to us the truth that into all of this darkness, the Light of Christ has dawned and illumined that darkness in ways that forever change our world and forever change us. The limits that are part and parcel of our human existence are no match for the light that is God’s glory. This is what we mean by the Epiphany, and we continue to live in the light of the Epiphany in these opening days of Ordinary Time. Now that Jesus Christ has come into the world, nothing on earth can obscure the vision of God’s glory that we see in our Savior. Not even the darkness of our world, or the darkness of our own sin.
So for those of us who feel like every day is a struggle of some sort, and who wonder if this life really means anything, the Good news is that Jesus has come to give meaning to our struggles and to walk with us as we go through them. For those of us who are called to ministries for which we might feel unqualified – as catechists, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Lectors, RCIA team members, small group leaders or retreat leaders, even those of us called to the priesthood or diaconate – we can look to the Apostles and see that those fishermen were transformed from the darkness of their limited life to the light of what they were able to accomplish in Christ Jesus. Wherever we feel darkness in our lives, the Good News for us is that Christ’s Epiphany – his manifestation into our world and into our lives – has overcome all that.
So the key to overcoming the darkness is to place ourselves in the presence of the Light. If we have sin, we should confess it and let the Light of mercy overcome the darkness of sin. We should make a renewed effort to participate faithfully in the celebration of Mass every Sunday, Holy Day, and even weekday if we can. We should make efforts to renew our prayer lives so that Christ’s light can burst into every moment of our day. And when we are called to ministry, as we all are in some way, we should respond as immediately and Peter, Andrew, James and John. We don’t know where all of that will lead us – we never do – but with all that Light in us and around us, we can never fall too far.
As the Psalmist sings for us today, the Lord truly is our light and our salvation.