We begin our reflection of the readings of this Third Sunday in ordinary with these words of the First Reading, taken from the Prophet Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light
a light has dawned on those who live in the land of the shadow of death
We would remember Isaiah as the prophet who was among our companions when we made our preparations for the Christmas feast but a few weeks ago, the prophet who pointed out the promised Messiah who is to come. With this text we focus our eyes once again upon the figure of the Lord, who has come as the light to the Gentiles, the Light of the world who has come among us to cast away the darkness brought about by sin. He is the light that has dawned upon the people who have lived in the land of the shadow of death. We are reminded of this image of the Jesus of Nazaret as the Light especially as we see him begin his preaching throughout the country of Judea and Galilee, as he begins his hectic years of public ministry, years which would abound with his preaching and with the wonders that he would wrought among the people. The message that he preached is neatly summarized in the words that we hear in today's Gospel:
"Change your ways: the Kingdom of Heaven is near!
These words are at the core of the Good News, and illustrate what Jesus Christ means for man with respect to God: in Christ man encounters his reconciliation with God. This is the work of reconciliation for which the Son of God came, that the abyss which once stood between God and man due to the latter's free decision to stray away from his creator has now been breached. This ministry of reconciliation Jesus would later entrust to His Apostles (St. Paul would later write to the Romans that his was the ministry of reconciliation as the work of an apostle), and this in our days is continued by the Church. This work of reconciliation brings us to consider therefore a necessary component of our lives as followers of the Lord, that of conversion.
Conversion is a word which actually means to "turn around" in Latin. This precisely indicates what we are called to do continually in our lives as Christians. By sin we have voluntarily stepped away from God, we have turned our backs on him and the light of his face. By converting ourselves time and again we turn back to God and allow ourselves to face God once again, and to allow our faces be illumined by the light of his face. In responding to the constant call of conversion we step back time and again into the light, leaving the darkness which is caused by our sins, and we step right into where God is.
It is in turning back to God and stepping right about to face him is what the Kingdom of God --Heaven--is all about. Heaven is wherever God is. That is why Jesus makes this announcement of the coming of the Kingdom, a Kingdom whose condition is precisely the conversion of the heart back to God (metanoia, a change of heart). To be able to enter into that promised Kingdom, it is precise to turn back to God in order that God may be able to enter into us, so that the seeds of His Kingdom may be planted and grow sturdy in us.
This Sunday we are being reminded of something which is basic to our Christian life of discipleship: the fact that we are always invited to respond to the constant invitation to face the Lord.