Let the Scriptures Speak
This Little Light of Mine
“I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach
to the ends of the earth.” (First Reading)
Some years ago, I was attending a farewell party for a rabbinic scholar about to take a professorship at a state university. At one point he said, “Yes, I am going to be “or legoyim.” Even those of us whose Hebrew was rusty knew exactly what he meant. “Or le goyim” is a phrase from Isaiah meaning “a light to the Gentiles (or nations).” Appearing in this Sunday's reading from Isaiah (First Reading), as well as last Sunday's (Is 42:6), it refers to the divinely mandated mission of Servant Israel. The phrase is a consecrated one, not only within the Jewish tradition but also in the Christian, for early on we claimed its fulfillment in Jesus and the Church (see Luke 2:32 and Acts 13:47; 26:23).
“Light to the nations” highlights a theme sounded by our Church—evangelization. It may not be obvious at first glance, but all of this Sunday's readings point in that direction.
In the Gospel, when John the Baptizer heralds Jesus as the one who baptizes “with the Holy Spirit ,” he is referring to the fact that Jesus is the agent fulfilling Israel's hope for renewal through a divine outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as expressed especially in Ezekiel 36:24-27 and Joel 3:1-5. How this entails mission becomes evident later in John’s Gospel when the risen Lord appears to the disciples and says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and then breathes on them, saying, “Receive the holy Spirit.” Being born again in water and the Holy Spirit entails furthering Jesus' mission of being the “light of the world” (in the language of John 9:5 regarding Jesus himself, or of Matthew 5:14 regarding followers of Jesus) and a “light to the nations” (in the language we have been reviewing in Isaiah and Luke).
When Paul, in this Sunday's Second Reading, addresses the Christians of Corinth as “called to be holy,” he is alluding to their status as heirs of the vocation of Israel. And when he refers to them as those 'who call upon the name of our Lord," he is applying to them a phrase from the above Spirit passage of Joel 3:1-5. As people who are baptized in the Spirit and share the vocation of Israel, they are of courses meant to be a “light to the nations.” We read these ancient passages in our worshiping communities because we claim that vocation for ourselves.
**From Saint Louis University