Our task to follow the ‘light in the darkness’

By: Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan.239

Isaiah 8:23 — 9:3; Psalm 27:1,4,13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17; Matthew 4:12-23

“When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is hard to remember that you were sent there to drain the swamp.” That is probably a feeling many of us encounter in our daily activities, whether it be our job, our family demands, or even social engagements we are obliged to honor.

Think of Jesus and how He must have felt with the constant crowds pressing in on Him. I have always been amazed at the charisma Jesus had. He attracted such huge crowds that He had a difficult time getting away for prayer.

Today we are a bit familiar with the phenomena of such attraction in rock stars and other public personalities. But they are quite different from the crowds of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, the needs of the people were so basic — for food, for relief from an oppressive system of government.
They were looking for someone to give them some comfort and healing. They were clamoring for the “light in the darkness.” (Isaiah)

Jesus’ charisma was evident in the call of Peter and Andrew, and, later, James and John. They were willing to leave their fishing boats, and, in the case of James and John, their father, to go with Jesus. This caused a change of direction in their lives. They certainly did not know what they were to encounter in this choice, but willing they were.

Most of us have, in some way, chosen the path of the disciples to follow Jesus. We, like the people of Jesus’ time, are looking to Jesus for “light in our darkness.” But our world is not so simple. And that can be complicated for us. We can easily find ourselves up to our neck in alligators — the subtle “pulls” away from our commitment to follow Jesus. Whether it is a lack of passion about our commitment, an unwillingness to have the discipline it takes to stay focused on Jesus, or the subtle attraction of other leaders, we find ourselves looking for the light in other places.

St. Paul gives notice about one of the major detriments in following Jesus. It is that very nasty problem called jealousy. We forget who we are following. In the case of Paul’s community of the Corinthians, it was a dispute about whether to follow Apollos, Cephas (Peter), Paul, or Jesus.
Paul quickly reminds his community that all the leaders are following Jesus. Division creates diminishment of the goal. It saps the energy of purpose. It allows the ego to get in the way of surrender.

How subtle it is to allow jealousy to take over the bonds of community! We are convinced that our ideal is the best, yet forget that truth resides in giving up our particular advantage to see the wholeness in the message that ties us all together.

Jesus came, asking each of us to follow Him so that we can understand what it means to be truly of the light, to grasp the incredible news that life comes not from our way of doing things, but from the willingness to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

The alligators snap at us, but the vision of our ideal in the person of Jesus keeps us grounded in our task: to empty ourselves in order to follow “the light in the darkness.”

SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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