(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Mass-Blog-for-the-5th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-Time-2023.mp3)
Aristotle taught that nature abhors a vacuum—that every space in nature needs to be filled with something. Like light, maybe?
Well, way before Aristotle’s time, humans showed an amazing knack for finding this world’s emptiest spaces and basking in their darkness. We’ve demonstrated that humanity’s evils thrive in such voids and we tend to protect them from any source of outside light that might try filling them. “What’s the problem,” we ask ourselves. “After all, as long as we come out for some light once in a while, we’ll be okay, right?”
Wen Jesus came along, he taught that these dark voids in which we like to hide are really traps from which there is only one escape. True escape IS a light source, but it’s not found outside ourselves. We must look deeper within to find it. Jesus revealed this portal to freedom while facing down the devil in preparation for his public ministry. Appropriately, this encounter took place in the middle of that dark empty space called nowhere.
During this dark desert encounter with evil, Jesus never accepted evil’s premise that the void in which humanity likes to hide is a kingdom in which we can come and go freely. In fact, we can only get more lost in its darkness.
Jesus belonged to His Father’s Kingdom, which is one of light—the source of which was within him, and by extension, within each one of us who acknowledges we are not of this world.
Jesus projected that light of truth into the void to which the devil tried staking humanity’s claim for us. The devil’s claim continues to be that the world belongs to evil. Even when face-to-face with the Son of God, Evil was happy to offer Jesus a share in it—if they could just co-exist. But essential evil is no match for the essential goodness God intended for humanity at the creation. With his incarnation, Jesus became our guiding star of light and invited all of humanity to follow it to our source.
St. Luke was one of those followers, and his earthly journey took the same path as other lost souls who eventually found and followed Jesus. The highlight of Taylor Caldwell’s novelization of St. Luke’s life comes at the end, when this “Dear and Glorious Physician” finally comes face to face with the object of his search for Jesus’s gospel truth: Mary, the earthly mother of God. In this critical scene, Mary recounts for Luke a standoff between her then 14-year-old son and the devil. It prefigures the time Jesus would prepare for his public ministry via a similar confrontation after his forty-days and nights of fasting in the desert.
In Caldwell’s imagining, Mary sees her little boy confront the spirit of evil. This spirit mocks him by lifting a clump of earth and tossing it away, symbolizing its worthless nature. Jesus responds by picking up a clump of earth and—rubbing it gently with his fingers—generating life in the form of lilies and greenery. Evil couldn’t stand the fullness of beauty emanating from within Jesus, and therefore, fled the scene for the protective cover of evil’s void.
We face the same confrontation with evil in the same external earthly void with which we surround ourselves daily. The prophet Isaiah also imagined the kind of turf war Caldwell described, but added this challenge to replace the dirt of human deeds with the spiritual light for which humanity was created:
If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.(Is 58:7-10)
Paul was a prisoner of evil’s gloom for many years before Jesus finally freed him from it. And as he would confess to the Corinthians, it was hard for “Saul” to let go of the dark comforts that void gave him until he discovered the power of God within him.
“I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)
God’s nature DOES abhor our vacuums, which is why he fills them with His light. As Jesus taught Satan in the void of evil’s earthly kingdom, humanity was made for the fullness planted deep within us and destined to take us out of this world:
“Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:13-16)