Sunday, February 9, 2020

3rd Sunday OT (Cycle A): The People Who Sits in Great Darkness

   “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.” Believe it or not, this is a very important passage for us Christian because it not only describes what happens when those who are suffering and abandoned, find themselves confronted with God’s love and mercy, but it also describes how those who serve others are illuminated by the face of Christ when they give themselves in service.
    The first time we hear these words today is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, who is speaking to those poor souls that had fallen under the captivity of the Assyrian king about 800 years before the birth of Christ. In the Gospel, we find ourselves in another very dark moment in the history of the people of Israel, the Roman occupation, however Matthew uses these same words to describe NOT the political liberation of his people but their spiritual liberation from the powers of evil. In Jesus ministry  these words find a different meaning, the darkness they speak about is much more than physical oppression, it is the darkness of a world that lives in ignorance. Ignorance of the suffering of their neighbor, ignorance of the will of God for their lives, but more importantly ignorance of the power of God and of the role of each person plays in the building of the kingdom of God. Matthew takes a prophecy which was spoken specifically for the people of Israel and gives it a universal meaning, a meaning not bound by time and space. Who are the people who live in darkness? Everyone who has not heard the good news of the Gospel, and every one who has heard the Gospel but has never taken the next step and put these words into actions.
   As you might know, last Monday I returned from our yearly Jamaica mission. This is my 8th trip and every time I visit this country I see people who are living in great darkness be blinded by the great light which is the Gospel of Christ in action.
   This year we had a good mix of young and old. We had married couples, college students, parents with their children, siblings, friends, college roommates, as well as people on their own. We packed 1800 pounds of donations, from you the good people of St Michael’s. We brought toys for children, clothes, school supplies, tools, laptops, phones and more than $25,000 dollars in contributions.  Our center of operations was the Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Hase Jamaica. An area forgotten by the government. A mere quarter of a mile away from a 400,000 gallons open air chemical waist pool for a Chinese operated aluminum processing plant. In fact you can see the levee of this pool from inside the church if you look out the window, and when the wind blows just right you can not miss the aroma.
   To complicate the matter the community has been trying to recuperate from losing a beloved priest and has just been assigned a “part-time” pastor. Needless to say this was a community experiencing great darkness. The task which took the bulk of our time there was replacing a rotted roof and moving a small wooden structure to a new foundation. But I would say these were the least important aspects of our trip.  Seeing how grateful and willing to embrace us  this community was, was truly an eye opening experience for us. For example, noticing that on the first day of work we only had sandwiches for lunch they gathered their few resources and for the next 3 days, for lunch, prepared for us a true Jamaican feast cooked right there on the site with burning wood using  an old tire rim as a stove.
     I could spend hours talking about our experiences on this trip and how we saw the light of Christ on the service work we did but I will do something better; I will read to you a note sent to Ted Burkheart by one of the college kids that accompany us. And I will let it speak by itself:
“   Hi Mr. Ted! Thank you so much for all you’ve done this year and all the years prior to get us all prepared for this trip and giving us this amazing opportunity. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All my siblings and my father had told me about the poverty and injustice I was going to see, as well as the kind and joyful spirits I was going to meet, but nothing they said really prepared me to see and experience it myself. The trip was truly a unique experience that I think everyone who has been as blessed as I have been, during my entire life, should have at least once in their lifetimes. Meeting the people of Jamaica, who don’t have nearly as much as us, but are still so much more joyful and gracious than us, really changes your perspective on the world. I see them all as an inspiration on how I want to live my life from now on, with that same joy and graciousness. I really think service trips such as this one are not only fulfilling and worthwhile, but also part of our duty as people so fortunate to help those who have not been as fortunate.”
   Wow, I tell you my brothers and sisters, because of the generosity of you; the people of St Michael, people who normally sit in darkness have, indeed, seen a great light. God bless you my brothers and sisters.