The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:12-17)
Last week we celebrated the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as the manifestation of the Holy Trinity together in one place. This week we hear the gospel that tells of the beginning of the Lord’s ministry and preaching. But something very significant happened in between these two events in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He fasted for 40 days and was tempted in the wilderness.
Sometimes we ask “why do we fast?” There are many answers, but the one that is most apparent from the gospel of Matthew is that we fast because this is what the Lord taught us through His own example. The Lord prepared Himself for the immense and world changing task that was ahead of Him. He was preparing Himself for the work of preaching and healing and being present with the people. We learn from the Lord’s example that we should also fast to prepare for significant events and even before significant decisions in our life. We also fast to regain our spiritual strength, to fight temptations and to amplify our repentance and our prayers to God.
In today’s gospel reading we are told that the Lord Jesus withdrew into Galilee after the arrest of John the baptist, His own cousin. As Jesus withdrew, He went and lived in Capernaum in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. Isaiah the prophet foretold this event saying“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and R23 shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
One of the anonymous church writers of antiquity has this to say “As history teaches us, these tribes were the first to cross over into Babylonia.” [Zebulun and Naphtali had been part of Israel and were thus sent by the Assyrians to Babylon (cf. 2 Kings 17) before the same fate befell the inhabitants of Judah.] “It is appropriate therefore that all those whom the wrath of God has struck should first be visited by God’s mercy and those who have been led into bodily captivity should first be brought back from spiritual captivity.”
What was the spiritual captivity? It was the darkness of life without the One true God. It was the darkness of the life of the Gentiles, who had neither the law or the prophets or any such thing. It was the darkness of sin.But the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ in that region was like the first appearance of the Sun to people who had never lived outside a cave. St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us that Christ our Lord is the great light and the brightness is thegospel preaching. I wonder if we understand this? Can we imagine what our lives would be like without the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ? Can we imagine our lives still in slavery to sin? Can we imagine a life without Christ in our midst? What an empty and darklife that would be.
But thank God that we are not in darkness, so don’t chase the darkness, but follow Christ. The worst thing for a Christian is to act as if he is still in darkness even when he has known Christ the true God. Don’t live your life so that it isfull of things that distract you, full of busyness and work and collecting things that you can’t keep forever. Make Christ your business. Give Him your heart and your mind and your life will be full of light. Each one of us has to reassess our lives daily. We have to see if our goals are lining up with our actions, we have to see if we are on the right path or fooling ourselves. Our goal is to grow in Christ and to grow in our likeness to Christ the Lord. As we examine ourselves and our lives we are called by God to change course, to change our minds, to repent in order to reorient ourselves back to the way of life, back to the light and away from the darkness.
St. Nicholai of Zicha once said “Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.”
The way of light that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us, requires us to abandon false paths, false desires and thoughts. What is false? Anything that disobeys the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only are these things false, but they do not save or bring us to life and fullness. So each and every day we can check our actions against the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. If something is unclear or uncertain perhaps we will need to dig deeper into the writings of the Church fathers and saints for some clarification. In this way there is always a check and balance for us and we won’t confuse darkness for light. The Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be children of the light who live and breathe and move in the light of God. He wants us to become little lights, just as He is the great light. So that even our lives will help others find their way to the Lord. May God give us the courage and the will to repent and to desire the light of Jesus Christ. Glory be to God forever AMEN.