Seeking the Light that Is

Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23 

This American Life Episode 501:  The View from in Here

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power – 1 Corinthians 1:17

Today, I draw much comfort in this excerpt from Paul’s message to the Corinthians. I am deeply honored to join the bloggers of The Acts of This American Life: The Gospel According to This American Life and to share what possible insights or wisdom I may glean from the lectionary as it ties to everyday life and This American Life. What I write is definitely not with eloquent wisdom, but hopefully written so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

This week’s upcoming readings (aside from the 1st Corinthian text) concern what we see when we see God’s salvation. That which we see because of the phenomenon that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and God’s unremitting desire to reach us is often conceptualized in the text as light. In Isaiah 9:2, we read:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.”

 We hear this passage repeated (with additions) in our Gospel text in Matthew 4:16:

the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The light of the Lord is that which saves. Too often we misuse or dislike words like saves, saving, or salvation; we intuit that these words only concern admission into a celestial heaven, or we shudder at the sounds of these words because we are reminded of the many street preachers and proselytizers that we have encountered who demand we repent and cease our sinful behavior. But salvation is much more.

Much of the biblical tradition is rooted in a particular understanding of time, which helps us understand words likes saves, saving, and salvation. There is what was, what is, and what is to come. The Living Word of God which we experience in today’s text concerns all three, but in my opinion what is appears much more relevant. The light of salvation is beautiful for us to experience today:

“But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish…he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” – Isaiah 9:1

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? – Psalm 27:1

So how do we see this light in what is time? In my opinion, it is all about perspective. This American Life Episode 501:  The View from in Here highlights the importance of perspective, especially when it appears to be lost. “Act One: Weeds of Discontent” features the losses in perspective in our society, our correctional officers, and our incarcerated regarding our prison systems. Brian Reed observes a personal conversation between a correctional officer (Dooley) and an inmate (Antwaun). Dooley asks Antwaun why he re-offended and returned to prison; why could he not have stayed out?

Antwaun Wells

What was I supposed to do? I come from the hood. I come from nothing. You tell me, what was I supposed to do?

***

I have no other option but to accept my choices I made. You know what I’m saying? I do admit my failures. You know what I’m saying?

But I will say that there were obstacles that at that time, I didn’t think right of overcoming, so I chose the wrong way to overcome them.

***

Lt. Cecil Dooley

But you make the conscious decision to continue doing the same things and expect different results.

Antwaun Wells

Sometimes you get pinned in a corner and you’re forced to do what you know.

***

So what am I gonna do? I’m going to go commit a crime, make me some money, and then go get me a dope sack.

***

I feel like society made a lot of rules to keep people safe. But at the same time, the people that they was trying to keep safe from, they gave us no other option but to go back out and re-offend because they put so many limitations on what we could do that where you have no other option but to go back to what you used to do.

Lt. Cecil Dooley

I’ve heard that same story for 14 years. I don’t know how to fix it. If I did, I’d be a millionaire. If I did, there wouldn’t be people in prison because I could tell them how to fix it.

The fancy biblical term for “fixing it” is repentance. Often, you will hear it defined as literally “turning around.” However, I have come to think of repentance as changing your perspective and seeking out God’s perspective. In Act One (above) we hear about the change in perspective that Antwaun needs in order to cope with life after prison, we hear about the change in perspective prison staffers need, and we hear that change is needed in society in order to fix our prison systems. Repentance is not just an individual change it is a community and societal effort as well. Repentance helps us see the light that is.

In Matthew 4:17 we hear:

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus does not just say you (individual) repent. He calls us all to do so. He then goes out throughout Galilee calling his disciples saying, “Follow me.” Repentance as a process may have two steps in my mind:  (1) Follow Me (Jesus) and (2) Keep Walking. It is when we stop, become comfortable with our poor decisions, and ignore what is happening around us that we are most susceptible to falling into darkness, into prison, and lose the light that is. We must continue to seek God:

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! – Psalm 27: 8-9

We may find him in a whisper, in a friend’s kindness, or in an experience. In Act Two of this episode, we hear Emily Bonderer Cruz discuss life as a real housewife in Juarez. The account emphasizes that she found light within a city in the midst of a drug war and between two countries with intolerant and broken immigration systems. She writes:

Despite this raging drug war going on, despite all of the bad things in the city, it’s the first place that’s ever opened its arms to my husband and I, the first place we can both legally call home. And it’s our own little paradise.

This journey of seeking is not easy nor perhaps should it be. In Act Three of this episode we hear Sayed Kashua, a writer and an Arab man, discuss his family’s move from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, from an Arab majority area to a Jewish majority area. In his “move on up” in society he discusses his family struggles with others and within themselves as they seek to find their natural place in this culturally divided society. This act in this episode leaves us in wonder if they will every truly find this paradise, but the journey appears rewarding.

With my first ever post on this blog, I encourage readers to keep walking in their journey towards the light of Christ today. I pray as the Psalmist prays:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! – Psalm 27:7

I pray this in hopes of the freedom and peace promised to us in Isaiah:

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. – Isaiah 9:4

 Only through the light of Christ, we are free.

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