3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
January 23, 2011

Readings: Is 8:23 – 9:3 / 1 Cor 1:10-13,17 / Mt 4:12-17

We simply cannot have enough of the Christmas spirit. Three weeks into ordinary time, just after the Christmas season (a long, long one in the Philippines!), we hear echoes of what we reflected on a whole lot, weeks and days before, during, and after Christmas (with an extra day to boot for us Pinoys, given the last hurrah we did on Santo Nino day, last Sunday!). The first reading once more speaks of light that shone in the darkness. Oozing with optimism, Isaiah prophesies what we long for and expect, in the spirit of Christian hope. He speaks of yokes on our shoulders being taken away, and rods of taskmasters being smashed. Anguish, he adds, will take wing, and darkness will be no more.

As I write, I am tying to get a grip of the multiplicity of “yokes, poles, and rods” that an equally seemingly infinite number of “taskmasters” impose on so many peoples. I am trying to make sense of the so many forms of “darkness” that cover a great part of the world and humanity at large. And as I cast my reluctant glances at what is happening all over the world – in “real time,” – that is, even now as I write, it is hard to wax as optimistic as Isaiah. It is difficult to see the mismatch between the revelry that we did last Sunday, the flashy celebrations we held last Christmas, and the exuberant and enthusiastic – even somber, if not, bizarre celebrations we did in honor of the Black Nazarene two weeks ago (in Manila and several places now in the Philippines!), on the one hand, and the irresponsibility of people in top leadership, the hatred and intolerance for Christians in other lands, and the so many “natural” tragedies taking place in so many places all over the world, on the other hand.

Let us not mince words … The people might have seen a great light, but the darkness of sin still envelops the world of which we are a part.

But before you give me up as bad job and refuse to listen to this prophet of doom, please read on. Please continue to give me a hearing. For, like Isaiah, my task is to help you make sense of what takes place, to help you make “a fusion of horizons,” in the hope that even the “human horizon” of darkness, sinfulness, and evil, can be made sense of vis-à-vis the “divine horizon” of salvation and God’s call to holiness.

We live at a time when people are very choosy. We choose to heighten one aspect of the same message and ignore the other part of the same exact message. We hear the good news of prosperity, but not the good news of adversity. We listen to the good news that refreshes, but the not the good news that pushes for more self-responsibility. We love to reflect on the light that shines, but not on the darkness that needs to be worked on. For the most part, we Catholics belong to what pastoral theologians call “cafeteria catholics” – Catholics in name who take their pick from a smorgasbord and believe only what suits their fancy!

Isaiah was right speaking about the degradation of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. He means it when he speaks of light shining in the darkness. It happened and got fulfilled in the birth of the Savior, in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

But Paul was right, too, in pushing the product of responsible freedom, in making a pitch for unity, and in talking about the good news of the cross, and the meaning of salvific pain and suffering. “For Christ,” he said, “did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

How now do we empty the cross of its meaning? Simple … Just ignore the cross altogether and remain in the mold of being simply “fair weather Christians,” Christians who choose only the news that refreshes, and not the news that pushes them to responsibility.

The Corinthians of old were just like us … fractious, contentious, divisive and divided. The Corinthians were what we are now … choosy, politically diverse, doctrinally disjointed. The darkness of sin has been there … then, not just now. Here where we stand, and not only in that “sinful structure” called politics and government everywhere.

It must have been nice for Jesus to have remained in cozy, homely, and nurturing Nazareth, never far from relatives and friends and supportive co-villagers. It must have been nice to choose to stay within his comfort zone, and just select the “sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice” associated with a “tinsel-and-foil-Christmas” that makes no demands from anyone other than saccharine sentimentalism.

But the good news that Isaiah spoke of, the good news that Paul refers to, is not one to evade and avoid Zebulun and Naphtali at all costs. No … the good news of salvation demanded that He take the bull by the horns and go head-on to that notorious land of Capernaum, where the mission needed to take root, where it needed to make headway, where the people, like the Corinthians … like US, you and I, here and now, are enveloped in the darkness of neo-paganism, hedonism, and misguided sense of personal freedom (otherwise known as cafeteria Catholicism!).

The drama is set. John the Baptist has been beheaded. The easiest thing for Jesus to do was run away. But no! He went right to the heart of disbelief and darkness – the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

This is where we Christian Catholics are now called to. Reality is far too actual to miss. We live in an anti-Christian culture, thanks to fellow Catholics like us, who follow more the gospel that refreshes, rather than the gospel that pushes. But we need to take our cue from one who left kith and kin, coziness and comfort, apparent security and surety, and went smack into the world of action, where darkness and despondency seem to rein supreme, where the yokes and poles of disbelief need to be broken, and rods of ungodly taskmasters need to be smashed.