5th. Sunday (A)
(Isaiah 58:7-10; 1st. Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16.)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you take your mind back to our first reading from the prophet Isaiah you will recall the words:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. Your vindication/righteousness shall go before you and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
The all-Holy God wants to heal sinners from the sting of sin, the wound of pride, and the fear of death, and the result of His healing is righteousness which is God’s prerogative, His gift; and those thus healed who continue their ongoing recovery will be backed up by the following, ‘backing-up’ protection of the glory of the Lord. All is God’s gift.
God’s work of healing, however, is not like that of some picture restorer, cleaning away the grime of ages and revealing the original beauty of some painting in all its integrity; on the contrary, by His gift of divine righteousness God is -- for Jesus’ sake -- restoring what we have most seriously blemished indeed, but also bestowing what we have never known:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. Your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
This healing thanks to God’s merciful gift to us in Jesus, and this abiding and sure protection given by His glory which follows us, are the source and the shield of our “righteousness”, that righteousness which makes us, “salt of the earth”, and “light of the world”. And this our light, must shine in the sight of men, not as a witness to our ‘personal integrity’ but, as Jesus said, should “glorify your Father in heaven”, whereby we become living members of Him Who summed up His whole life in the words:
(Father) I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).
Living members of Him Who wanted even His final act of dying on the Cross to serve that very same end (John 17:1):
Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You.
And so, in order to fulfil our vocation as members of that beloved Son, we have to recognise that we are special, not as a result of our own ‘personal integrity’, but by reason of God’s special gift to us in Jesus; a gift whereby we are entrusted and endowed with a special work to do in today’s world, with Jesus, for the Father:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Our realising that our righteousness is the gift of God thus becomes tantamount to the awareness of our responsibility before God: we cannot allow our life in Christ to become tasteless by lukewarm Catholic observance, and most certainly not by adopting worldly standards to obtain worldly praise.
If we look closely at Jesus’ choice of words to describe His disciples: ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ we will understand that both ‘salt’ and ‘light’ are self-less words, so to speak. Salt in the ancient world was widely used to preserve food items, and today most of us use it to bring out the ‘taste’ of food; of itself salt is little or nothing. Even more so is this the case with light, for light serves to illuminate whatever is there for us to see; otherwise, apart from the things it illuminates for us in our daily usage, light is seemingly nothing.
That self-less character which Jesus would like to see in His disciples was well exemplified in the first reading, where Isaiah advised:
If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness; if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul; then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday.
Paul, likewise, told us that he deliberately centred his converts’ faith on Jesus by making himself and his preaching as unpretentious as possible:
Brethren, when I came to you, I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
As Apostle of the Gentiles, Paul was truly ‘salt of the earth’, ‘light’ par excellence for the Gentiles, and yet he sought to preserve, confirm, and establish his converts in their newly professed Christian faith by proclaiming and glorifying not himself but Jesus, alone and entirely.
One of the characteristics of many modern, self-styled, religious people is that, first and foremost, they are not self-less; they are looking to get something out of religion for themselves, here and now. They want to hear and experience something new, something that will, hopefully, relieve them of the weariness of a religion they have long been aware of and accustomed to, but without ever having truly known or vitally experienced it. They want to feel divine presence/power at will (their will), they long to know the excitement of being swept along by supercharged emotions, or to be able to surrender themselves to a surreal, oriental, bliss: lulled by a surrounding, scented, and gently swirling fog of mystery. Such people are centred on their own earthly feelings and experiences, and they find Christianity which speaks of a transcendent God – One over and above their control -- quite boring, because the Christian message is addressed to those willing to respond to that message with faith, and commit themselves to a personal encounter of love and obedience. Our modern ‘religious’ and ‘experimenters-in-religions’ on the other hand, aspire to have their emotions directly and agreeably stirred up, with their minds left comfortably disengaged in their ‘status quo’ of no responsibilities being required of them.
The apostle Paul said that he was acutely conscious of his own personal weaknesses which meant that He proclaimed the mystery of God to them ‘in fear and much trembling’; he had deliberately refused to impress them by his outstanding Pharisaic learning and Greek ‘wisdom’, though he was -- as Festus the Roman governor testified before Paul’s adversaries (Acts 26:24) -- a very highly educated man, at least bi-lingual, and privileged as a citizen of Rome. Nevertheless, he desired above all that his converts’ faith should rest on the power of the pure word of God and of His accompanying Gift of grace, not on the astuteness of self-centred men who can, at will, speak words that are almost salacious in their ability to delight and to sway the hearts of any hearers into praise of and submission to such oratory and specious learning.
But there, you might think, is something that needs further explanation: Paul speaks of the power of God, and displays of power are, surely, just what our worldly religious people want to see and experience?
Yes, that is indeed the case. But the power of God of which St. Paul speaks is never displayed: it is, indeed, sometimes exercised for the encouragement and benefit of people in particular circumstances, such as hearing the word of God for the first time, or, striving – under exceptional difficulties -- to live according to His teaching. Nevertheless, God's exercise of power on such occasions and for such people is not a display of spiritual fireworks to make all who witness it gape, but rather an expression of God’s continuous and largely invisible battle in and through Mother Church for the minds and hearts of men and women of all times and all cultures against the abusive and tyrannical rule of Satan over this world.
Today, in our affluent society, we see the awful consequences arising when society as a whole acquiesces under the power of Satan and opts for the wages of sin: ever more and more disgusting and degrading exuberances of evil appear in our midst against which the miserable fig-leaves of human self-righteousness, politically-correct morality, and laws of a totally secular character, are powerless to recognize, let alone control or redress.
People of God, Christians, above all Catholics, should gratefully recognize and confidently embrace their God-given vocation to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Salt was used, as I said, in the ancient world to preserve food from corruption; and those disciples of Jesus who do not resist the corruption of evil, become like tasteless salt, as Jesus said:
Good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Likewise, a light is meant to show the way, to lead in the right direction. Catholics who do not, in any way, lead along that way but always follow the popular path, consistently excusing themselves saying that 'what everyone else is doing can't be that bad', are not true Catholics, not authentic disciples of Jesus at all; they follow the pagan majority into fornication, divorce, adultery, and contraception; they steal, they malign, and they lie. Indeed, there are some who do such things and then parade their vaunted ‘personal integrity’ – and consummate their sin -- by receiving the Eucharist with oodles of hypocritical self-righteousness but no confession, no contrition.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, be simple and sincere before God in all your dealings with men, and be quietly but totally confident in Jesus’ promise that, because you are His disciples, you are indeed the salt of the earth and the light of the world; and the witness that you bear for Jesus will, ultimately, bring forth fruit for God’s greater glory and the refreshment and delight of His People. Do not be concerned about yourself and your standing among men, but rather, trying to be true to Jesus and His teaching in Mother Church, trust in God and allow Him to care for you and take care of you, for He is the unfailing Shepherd of His flock. In that way the prophecy of Isaiah will be verified in you:
Your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'