The People Who Walk in Darkness
By The Rev. David Sellery
John is in jail and Jesus is on the run. This week’s gospel opens up like a western movie. Back then, preaching peace and living love could be a very dangerous business. In fact, it still can be. Jesus knows his ministry will take him to the cross. But he’s not ready for that yet. He’s just begun and there is so much work to do. Herod has John locked up, but that doesn’t shut him up. From the depths of the dungeon, John cries out: “Repent,” echoing Christ’s call to: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
They are both on-message together. But all in all, it doesn’t look like an ideal time to start a ministry… and certainly not the ideal place for it. Northern Galilee is definitely not where “the beautiful people” are… nothing but fishermen, and poor ones at that. But Jesus is preaching out in the boondocks for a reason… the very same reason that he was born in Bethlehem. In proclaiming the New Covenant, he is faithful to every prophecy of the Old Covenant, right to the letter. And as Isaiah had predicted, this backwater is where the light would come to: the people who walked in darkness.
The darkness in Northern Galilee was largely a function of isolation. They were way out of the mainstream, eking out a subsistence living. Jerusalem was where the action was, where the priests held sway, where theology was the constant topic of the day. In Northern Galilee their focus was on empty nets and trying to fill them with fish. They lived in the darkness of bare, solitary subsistence. The darkness we walk in today is the mirror opposite.
Our darkness is a function of poorly distributed prosperity and the envy and self-indulgence it breeds. It is compounded by constant media intrusion and message overload. Our dark isolation is a defense mechanism developed by a people drowning in a non-stop information dump. In the familiar code of texting, we are suffering from TMI: “too much information.” But more than that, we are swamped with TMDI: “too much dysfunctional information.” The first objective of this media onslaught is to capture eyeballs, to get attention. Predictably that has resulted in a race to the bottom across the whole spectrum. Shock value is what makes messages go viral. Sex and violence get ratings, while trashing the envelope of decency. Popular music features a non-stop deluge of obscenity and misogyny pouring out of headphones right into young brains. Even a G-rating is no protection against smarmy scripts riddled with corrupt values and double-entendres. While the insidious poison of porn awaits both young and old, only a few key-strokes away.
“Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The message is two-thousand years old; but it’s as if Jesus had composed it this morning just for us. The kingdom certainly is at hand. But you won’t find it on MapQuest. The kingdom of heaven exists where the bondage of sin has been broken; where God is praised; where neighbor is loved. For the faithful, the kingdom of heaven exists wherever God’s will reigns: in a single soul, in a family, a congregation, a community. But that great blessing comes with a great obligation. We are the light of the world. We must take that light to the people who walk in darkness. We must live an evangelical life; letting family, friends, co-workers, everyone we touch today know from our example…our faith, our hope, our love… that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It is here for the asking. There is no reason to walk in darkness when we can dance in the light.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, which is in the public-domain.
Copyright 2014 David Sellery. Used by permission.