Darkness and Light: A Parable for Our Time
A well-circulated Hasidic tale tells the story of a rabbi quizzing his
students. He asked, "How can we determine the hour of dawn, when
the night ends and the day begins?"
One of the students suggested, "Day begins when, from a distance,
you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep."
"No," answered the rabbi. Another student asked, "Is it when you
can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?"
Again the answer was, "No." "Please tells us the answer then,"
said the students.
"Night ends and the day begins," said the rabbi, "when you can
look into the faces of other human beings and you have enough light
in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then, it
is night, and darkness is still with us."
Today we celebrate Epiphany, the joyous realization that our God has manifested the light of forgiveness and redemption in our world. While we remember with gladness the One whose birth made light live and move among us, we also have to admit that the darkness of which the rabbi spoke continues to overshadow us and our communities, our nation and our world.
To put it another way, the mystery Paul was privileged to reveal in that beautiful Letter to the Ephesians-- that all peoples of the earth are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise of Jesus through the Gospel -- has not yet been fully realized. As long as there are divisions, as long as there is bias, prejudice or ethnic hatred, we continue to find ourselves in a darkness that longs for the dawn. Therefore, as we celebrate this feast of Epiphany, we are to recognize and embrace its challenge: to be living reflections of the light of Christ for all people.
In the first reading, Isaiah envisions a cavalcade of nations streaming toward Jerusalem, with a shared desire to find the Lord of light and goodness, and offer their praise. In today's Gospel, Matthew expresses the faith of the early church, who believed that Jesus is the Lord of light and glory in whom all the nations of the earth, represented by the Magi, will find salvation.
While it is easy and quite comfortable to talk about visions of world unity, the challenge of Epiphany is to make it happen, beginning not necessarily on a national level but with ourselves. In the spirit of the Scriptures we have proclaimed today, we might invite to dinner a neighbor or coworker of another faith, race or culture. It might be time to embrace the light of Christ by speaking up and objecting to racist or sexist jokes and slurs.
The feast of Epiphany provides us with a lovely tableau of nations coming together from the corners of the earth, and kings bearing gifts with which to honor Jesus, child of Mary and Son of God. But that tableau can only come to life if each of us values the other as a beloved child of God and our brother or sister. We need not travel to faraway places to realize the grace of the Epiphany. We need only to look to our right and our left, to the neighbor next door or across the street, to our coworker or our boss, to the relative we'd rather avoid or to the friend we find it hard to forgive. Every person whom God puts on our path is both a gift and an opportunity. A gift because they too are a children of God; an opportunity because they enable us to make the challenge of the Epiphany real and practical.
With our hearts humble and true, we are sent forth from this Eucharist challenged by the Word of God to carry with us the light of Christ and allow that light to illumine the world around us. And as the wise Rabbi said, that will only happen "when you can look into the faces of other human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters."