(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel this Sunday begins with disturbing news. John the Baptist has been arrested. In the midst of reading about Jesus' miracles and parables, we can sometimes forget how dangerous life is for the people of Israel. Israel is a conquered land. The Romans have come in and taken over with their soldiers. These people do not know the One true God. They are Gentiles. They have arrested John the Baptist and put him in prison. We know that he will be executed. The people live in
the region and the shadow of death.
The land of Israel, the land promised to the Jewish people by God, is not a safe place.
In the midst of this trouble, St. Matthew takes great care to remind us of the prophecy of Isaiah, the one we usually think about in the time of Advent and Christmas:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light
This is how the prophet Isaiah speaks. We understand that the great light is Jesus.
However, St. Matthew, when recalling the prophecy with us, says it like this:
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light
We notice a difference. Isaiah says, "walked"; St. Matthew says, "sat." Why? We could say that St. Matthew remembers the prophecy incorrectly. Maybe he does not have the prophecy scrolls in front of him when he writes. Maybe. But over the years when making copies of the Gospel, surely someone would notice the mistake and fix it.
Perhaps it is not a mistake.
Why might both versions be kept? Maybe we can learn something by thinking about these two versions of the prophecy side-by-side.
People who are walking are going somewhere, right? Walking in darkness is not very safe, though. How can they see where they are going? How can they be sure they will not get lost or hurt? Why are they even walking? They must be in search of something.
People who sit in darkness are going nowhere. The darkness is too great, is too frightening. They are frozen. St. Matthew names the darkness, "the region and shadow of death." There is fear. There is no movement. They are in search of nothing.
This might remind us of two parables of Jesus—parables that he tells back-to-back:
“The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
The merchant is in search of fine pearls. The person who finds the treasure is not. Both find the kingdom of God.
The people who walked in darkness and the people who sat in darkness—Isaiah and St. Matthew both say—
have seen a great light
Jesus comes to them all.
Peter and Andrew cast their nets into the sea, in search of fish. Jesus says,
“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
They find what they are looking for. They may not have known that this is what they were searching for, but,
Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Like the merchant, they leave everything behind when they find the kingdom of God.
James and John sit in their dad's boat, mending the nets. They are not in search of anything. But, Jesus calls them, too, and
Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Like the person who discovers treasure hidden in the field, they leave everything behind when they discover the kingdom of God.
This is good news, is it not?
People in search of something better, will find God.
People not in search, who are perhaps overwhelmed with trouble, will find God.
Or maybe—since it is Jesus who comes along, since Jesus is the great light that shines into the darkness of death and sorrow and worry—we would be more correct to say:
God finds them.
God finds us. All of us.