Saturday after Ash Wednesday
How dark is it out there? Clearly, it was very dark for the people of Israel at the time Isaiah proclaimed the message we have in our first reading. At this point in Isaiah’s life his beloved Israel was crumbling before the military might of the Assyrians. They were literally camped at the gate! The political leadership was divided, the religious leaders were scrambling to keep their favored positions, the economy was close to collapse, increasing poverty was the experience of the majority of people, justice served only the wealthy and powerful, instability and fear became a constant companion, and self-interest the ruling norm. It was, indeed, a very dark time in the history of Israel.
Isaiah’s promise of "light" that would overcome all the darkness was a life-saving message. But the "light" could only come if the people would live their lives differently. They needed to put aside oppression, false accusation and malicious speech. They needed to feed the hungry and offer succor to the afflicted. They needed to cherish the Sabbath and give that day to the Lord. All of these reformed ways of living would rekindle the light, dispel the darkness, and release the refreshing waters of God’s love into their lives. It was a message of possibility that gave courage and hope to the people of Israel during the darkest moments of their history.
Is there any darkness in our lives? Of course there is. Some may even feel like they are living their whole lives in darkness. But all of us struggle with darkness in our lives whether its source is sin, disappointment, betrayal, misunderstanding, personal mistakes, illness or death. The reading from Isaiah is a welcome promise.
Today’s Gospel is even more compelling. It reminds us that Jesus came just for us who struggle with darkness. Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees about his association with people who are clearly sinners, people outside the law. Jesus’ response is very clear. Such people are the very reason he came. They are at the very center of his love and his mission. The righteous don’t need him. He has come for the sinners, the people lost in darkness.
During these weeks of Lent, we need to deepen our commitment to accepting Christ’s love. He came for us. Let’s make him welcome in our lives. Christ will dispel our darkness whatever its source and bring us into his light and the refreshing love of God.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of lay formation for Holy Cross Province and is stationed at Immaculate Conception Retreat in Chicago.