Posted by: Fr Chris | January 6, 2018

A Fundamental Change: Sunday after Theophany Sermon

In the gospel today, we heard a verse adapted by St Matthew from the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 9:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

The land allotted to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali

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The majority of the people in Galilee were pagans who lived in darkness, but Theophany is a feast of lights in the dark of January to show how powerful J’s presence is.

His light pierces the physical darkness with the bright illumination of churches at night, and the spiritual darkness of those who lived either as pagans or under the influence of paganism. The Israelite tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali were given this northeast corner of the Holy Land to live in. By the time of Isaiah the Jews who were still living there had trouble holding onto their faith and customs, and this was even more so in the time of Christ.

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Jesus calls the fishermen to become fishers of men

The Galilean Jewish population was looked down upon by the Jews living in the region of Judea and Jerusalem. Those Jews saw the Galilean Jews as not being orthodox enough and the province was called Heathen Galilee by Judeans. However, the Jews living there were also open to new ideas and they were also looking for the messiah. Jesus comes with a radical preaching as He calls the disciples to follow Him, not for military glory but instead to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to teach the way of God to those who do not know God — and the core of His message is of the need to repent.


From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” It was a constant theme of  John the Baptist’s preaching, of  Jesus’ preaching, and in the messages of Our Lady to the world at her various apparitions in the 19th and 20th centuries: repent.

To repent:  in English: to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. But in the original Greek it is much stronger – a transformative change of heart; especially a spiritual conversion.

Looking at Hellenistic Jewish writings, scholars have found that for Jews living at the time of Jesus, “repentance” meant “a fundamental change in thinking and living.” For the New Testament, this change is a necessary ingredient in accomplishing God’s plan for salvation and community for everyone.  A FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE – in the core of my being, in the depths of my soul, in the deepest part of my heart, in the chambers of my mind – CHANGE from one way of living to a totally different one.

Bats in North America have been suffering from a fungus on their noses. It has killed nearly six million bats in their dark caves – but now a cure has been found: light. Showing a little ultra-violet light on the bats kills the fungus and saves the bats. Saving the bats means saving the ecology as they have a critical role to play in nature and in our food supply.  What does this have to do with the sermon?

As it happens, next week is Zacchaeus Sunday – that means the preparation season for Great Lent begins in January, since Easter is April 1st. Lent is of course THE time to repent – not only of sin, but to do this – have a transformative change of heart, have a spiritual conversion, to be open to the Divine Light which kills all sin!  This is already the time of the year therefore to start asking myself:

What must I repent of?       What must I convert to?   What must I change inside of me in order to follow Christ more authentically?

There is a famous painting of Jesus knocking on a closed door. The door has no handle. The person inside the house must open the door and answer Jesus’ knock. If not, Jesus will walk away.

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Jesus does not want people who say, oh it’s too hard, God understands. He wants people willing to break free of the chains of sins, to turn away from that darkness of sinful lives to His shining light. Jesus Christ is  the Son of God who says in the Gospel of Saint John:”I am the true light. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness.”  Jesus is the light that kills human sins, enabling us, empowering us, to fulfill the roles He has assigned to each of us in His world.

Everyone has a darkness to walk away from. The child who refuses to play nicely, or to do chores in the house without complaining. The adult who doesn’t like the co-worker or boss and makes it known to everyone. The soul who resorts to alcohol, or marijuana, or other drugs, or pornography rather than God’s grace. The person who says I go to church for two hours on Sunday, what more does God want?  Funny how we expect God to be attentive to us for the whole 168 hours of the week but people can resist giving Him more than Sunday worship time.

Jesus invited the apostles to follow Him – they abandoned careers, families, bank accounts in order to walk with Him. And the key here is that Jesus walked with them, as God once walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve every evening at sunset. He walked with them and worked with them as they were then, gradually leading them to change from followers to apostles.

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Take up your cross and follow Me; walk with Me. 

He wants to walk with me – say that to ourselves – He wants to walk with ME.

He wants to be there the whole time, knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds.  We have to open the door from inside and let Him in, and when we let Him in, He comes with His bright light of love and grace to pierce the darkness of our hearts and minds and let the light kill our bad habits, our sins. But we have to open ourselves to that light – and then like the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, we will each indeed see a great light – one of grace and God’s energy working with our free will to become new people this year, different from last year, people who are aware that God is indeed walking with each of them.           

Christ is among us!

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