3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
27 JANUARY 2002
Scriptual Reference: Isaiah 8:23b - 9:3; Psalm 27:1,4,13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17; Matthew 4:12-23

How Can We Clear the Clouds?

       Several years ago, I went to a production of the "The King and I," a classic Rogers and Hammerstein show. I had never seen the show or heard the music. Before the show began, they played the 'overture.' During an overture, the orchestra plays a little of each song that will be used during the production. The audience, during the overture, is exposed the music of the show. It is a chance for them to preview what is to come.

       Today, we have an 'overture' of Matthew's gospel, a chance to preview what themes are coming up in the year. The major themes of Matthew are present in today's reading. Matthew is always intent on showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesy, so immediately, we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah's words from the first reading. Jesus calls his first disciples to follow him, demonstrating that any follower of his must join a group of other followers; no one can be a lone ranger. Matthew relates how Jesus goes around Galilee teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing those who are sick. These themes of calling, teaching, proclaiming and healing will emerge again and again in Matthew's gospel. Finally, in our overture, we hear the most important message of Jesus, a message which defines the rest of his ministry: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

       We Americans are weather addicts. There are 4 or 5 channels on cable devoted exclusively to weather, the premier channel, being of course, the "Weather Channel." I live with a priest in the rectory, who shall go nameless, that has a serious case of Weather Channel addiction. His friends have been known to say that he loves the Weather Channel so much that he tapes it when he is gone, so he can watch what he missed. At any rate, the meteorologists on the Weather Channel have a broad nomenclature to describe weather conditions. They say it can be sunny, mostly sunny, partly cloudy, which means mostly sunny, partly sunny, which means mostly cloudy, mostly cloudy, cloudy, and finally, my favorite, variable cloudiness. However, the sun doesn't recognize any of these distinctions; the sun is shining brightly during the day no matter how cloudy it is. Our ability to see the shining sun, though, does depend on just how cloudy it is.

       In the first reading today, Isaiah talks about the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. These two Jewish tribes possessed lands in the north of Israel, in Galilee. Because they were the furthest north, they were the first to lose their land because of warfare with invading Assyrians. Thus, the north is always associated with darkness. But the prophet talks about how the people who had walked in darkness there have seen a great light. Their burdens have been lifted from them. Matthew, as I have said, shows us how Jesus is the fulfillment of that prophesy. Jesus is the one to dispel darkness as he begins his ministry in Galilee, the traditional land of the Zebulun and Naphtali tribes. Jesus is the one who announces God's kingdom of heaven: a kingdom where, according to the prophet, there is great joy and rejoicing, a place where burdens are lifted, a place where people make merry because of God's abundant goodness.

       There is a problem that arises in the time of Jesus: a problem that persists today. If God's kingdom of heaven is at hand, why is there still suffering? Why is there pain, and sin, and calumny, and warfare? Many theologians address this problem. With God's kingdom of heaven, there is a sense that it is already here, and a sense that it is not yet here. Just as we know that the sun shines even when covered by clouds, we know that God's kingdom has come, even when it is covered by the clouds of sin. The more clouds of sin that hang over us, the less clearly we can see God's kingdom. The more goodness and love there is in the world, then we can more clearly see the Son of Justice, that is Jesus Christ. Our experience of God's Kingdom of heaven is somewhere between sunny and cloudy; most of the time, our experience of God's kingdom of heaven is one of 'variable cloudiness'.

       The recent Enron scandal has made front-page news for a few weeks now. If you haven't been following the story, here is recap. Enron is a huge energy-trading firm in Texas. Many of the benefits that they offered employees came in form of Enron stocks. In the last year, the firm hid its financial difficulties behind questionable accounting practices. It seems that the top leadership of Enron saw the imminent collapse coming, and sold off their stock to the collective tune of $63 million. As they were selling, they forbad 20,000 more ordinary workers from selling their stock. Then, they declared Bankruptcy. Stock that had been work $80 a share was worth less than a dollar. Billions of dollars in retirement saving were wiped out. Many thousands of ordinary workers lost all that they had spent their lives saving.

       A columnist recently asked the question, "How could they?" How could corporate leaders be so inconsiderate and selfish? But this same columnist made an interesting point: Asking the question, "How could they?" prevents us from asking the question, "how could I?" Yes, it is easy to see the clouds of sin in the world, clouds that block the sun, and blame Enron's executives, or the World Trade Center bombers, or criminals who commit horrible crimes. So, we simply brush our hands free of any involvement and ask, "How could they?" But, the gospel today compels us to take a different course of action. In his trademark saying, Jesus declares, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" He doesn't say, blame everyone else for the world's problems. He says Repent. That means that we must consider how we contribute to the cloudiness that blocks the sun. Times where we are selfish. Times when we are violent and slanderous in our language. Times where we violate the common good by putting our own interests first. It is true, treating others with kindness and love will not bring back the retirement savings of Enron employees. Putting others first will not bring back those who have died at the hands of violence. But, when we heed the message of Jesus as his disciples, we blow away some of those clouds that prevent us from seeing that kingdom. We will have a whole year to hear to focus on. Matthew's insistence that faith and ethics go hand in hand. May the Holy Spirit come into our hearts, that we may see more clearly the Son shining brightly and leading us home to the Father's kingdom. +

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