Revised Common lectionary text for the third Sunday after Epiphany can be found here:
“A people in darkness has seen a great light!”
With these thunderous words Isaiah announces a hopeful message of deliverance. Set in a time of threat, the reference appears to be the birth of a prince or the coronation ceremony. The geopolitical reference to Galilee is clearer; this was where the Assyrian invasion stalled; consuming Israel, but sparing, by God’s grace, Judah.
However, the contemporary promise of Messianic deliverance included a reference to the last days. It is probable that both dimension, near and distant future are woven into the prophet’s message.
The first Christians recognized Jesus as Messiah. So Mt reports that when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Nazareth, this was Isaiah’s light shining on the people of Galilee. (Thanks be to God!)
Jesus, however, turns out to be a different kind of king. He was not a Davidic warrior come to deliver His nation with sword and spear. God knows that “the darkness and gloom” of geopolitics is not the biggest problem. The horror of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome; of Nazi and Communist yesterday, or radical Islam today are a manifestation of the spiritual darkness which encompasses us all.
Jesus is the Light of the World, the true light which fills our darkness. This darkness permeates every human, good and bad. In Jesus God reaches to humanity. Jesus is God’s promise, delivered and fulfilled, that no one is forgotten or abandoned.
In Matthew we learn that salvation has an ecclesiastical dimension. The disciple is called to be with Jesus. Discipleship is companionship. It is also school. Disciples are students who learn about God from Jesus. But it is head and heart knowledge—information and skill. Disciples become like the Master through the difficult formation process of life together in the church.
The curriculum is God Himself. He conveys His very Divine self in word and sacrament to be with His people and to act through His people. The Bible is our text book, but the learning process includes lectures (Tradition) which explain and practicums which apply the word to life.
Paul is concerned about the church which began the day that Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John. The church had expanded to Corinth and its divisions are the same we see today. Self-important individuals intoxicated by our beliefs, like Assyria or Babylon, we, too, would oppress the people of God and conform them to our way of thinking.
It seems easy to assign Peter to the “Catholic” (institutional and hierarchical), Paul to the “Protestant” (“Letter to the Romans”) and, more of a stretch, Apollos, the philosopher,” to the Liberal/Modernist church of the Rationalist. And in every age you have those who claim they have Jesus (“the only ones who got it right, ever.”)
No doubt our strongly held beliefs are important and worth debating, but Paul reminds us that it is the heart and mind of Christ which is central. All of us, whether, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Non-denominational must follow Jesus. IF I am coming to Jesus and if you are coming to Jesus THEN we all end up together (with Jesus).
That is the scandal of church division, schism in Greek. The Body of Christ is ONE. Our divisions contradict our witness. Christ is not carved up into pieces like a dismembered corpse!
So how does one acquire the heart and mind of Christ? It is a gift, graciously given: we are too dark to be our own light. We must ask the Father, however, we know that the gift is received by those who commune with Jesus. The mind of Christ comes from hearing Him speak in Bible and in the church. The heart of Christ comes from loving others more than self. It comes from CROSS SHAPED service to the poor and needy (however those terms are defined in particular situations).One cannot be in community alone. Jesus called discipleS (plural) to be with Him. It is neither a private nor individual adventure. It encompasses every Christian in the whole world. In this local parish, for whatever reason, you and I are yoked together in this process. To walk as one in the light who is Jesus; and to be light to those in darkness. It is a gift, it is a vocation