5th. Sunday of the Year (A)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you take your mind back to that 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 shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear-guard.
In that reading a healing is being referred to: God healing us from the wound of sin and the sore of pride, and we are told that by His help men will recover, and their recovery will be backed up subsequently by the glory of the Lord supporting them. All that will be God’s GIFT, thanks to His saving mercy. God’s healing is not like the work of some picture restorer, cleaning away the grime of ages and revealing the original beauty of some painting in all its integrity; His restoring work is the gift of eternal life in Jesus by the Spirit, something previously only foreshadowed for Adam and Eve before being irrevocably lost by our forebears’ sin.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, your wound shall quickly be healed. Your vindication shall go before you and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
This healing of the wound of sin and the sore of pride thanks to God’s merciful gift to us in Jesus, this abiding and sure protection given by His glory which follows us, results from the gift of eternal life and is the source and the shield of our earthly “righteousness” that makes us “the salt of the earth”, and “the light of the world”. And this our Gifted-Light, must shine in the sight of men, not as a witness to our personal integrity, but -- as Jesus said -- to “glorify your Father in heaven”, and thus will 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),
of Him Who wanted even His act of dying on the Cross to serve the same end (Jn 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 of ourselves but by God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we have to remain special, because we have a work to do 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 “righteousness” is the gift of God thus becomes tantamount to awareness of our “responsibility”: we cannot allow our life in Christ to become tasteless by adopting behaviour that belongs to the world, where “my personal and professional integrity” are held in high esteem and the humility of Christian righteousness is contemned.
If we look more 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 being widely used to preserve food items, and even today to give ‘taste’ to food; of itself salt is relatively nothing. Likewise, light serves to illuminate whatever is there to be seen by us; and again, of itself, apart from the things it illuminates, light is not of any personal use. It is that self-less character which Jesus would like to see in His disciples, and which was well exemplified in the first two readings, where Isaiah advised:
If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
and St. Paul told his readers and converts that he had deliberately sought to centre their faith in God by affirming the essential importance of Jesus sent by God, and making himself and his own preaching as unpretentious as possible:
When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom, 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.
Paul, ‘salt of the earth’ sought to ‘preserve’ his converts by proclaiming and glorifying not himself but Jesus, for God.
One of the characteristics of some modern, self-styled religious people is that they look to get something out of religion for themselves here and now. They usually want to hear and experience something new, preferably indeed, something mysterious and oriental, that will, hopefully, free them from the weariness of what they have long been aware of in our Western society yet have never known or experienced; they want to feel the power and excitement of being swept along by charged communal emotions or the bliss of being surrounded and lulled by a scented and gently swirling fog of mystery. Such people are centred on their own earthly, supposedly-spiritual, feelings and experiences, and they end up finding Christianity, which speaks of a transcendent God, quite boring; especially, indeed, when the Christian message is proclaimed with clarity to their minds, whereas they want to have their emotions strongly stirred and clamouring but with their minds left relatively -- that is comfortably and peacefully -- disengaged.
The apostle Paul said that He preached the mystery of God in such a way that his convert’s faith should rest, not on the wisdom or cleverness of men who can speak words almost salacious in their ability to delight and sway the hearts of those who hear them, but on the power of God. And there, you might think, there is something that needs explaining, for displays of Godly power are, surely, just what many of us Catholic and Christian people rejoice to hear of and perhaps 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 hearing the testimony of God for the first time, or, striving to live according to His teaching. However, 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 a rare and extraordinary visible manifestation of what is God’s continuous invisible battle through the Church and by His Spirit for the minds and hearts of men and women of all times and all cultures against the abusive and tyrannical rule of Satan; and there is no power other than that normally unseen power of God’s grace in Jesus and the Church that can rescue mankind from their fallen, sinful, state. Today, in our affluent, sinful and adulterous society, we see the awful consequences arising for ordinary individuals when society as a whole acquiesces under the power of Satan and opts for the wages of sin, with the result that ever more and more disgusting and degrading exuberances of evil appear in our midst, and against which the miserable fig-leaves of human self-righteousness and the ‘rule of law’ are powerless to control, let alone redress.
People of God, Christians and above all Catholics have to try 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, have become like tasteless salt, as Jesus Himself said:
Good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
Likewise, light is meant to show people the way, to lead them in the right direction; Catholics who do not, in any way, lead along that way, but rather only and always follow in the wake of the world, whose consistent excuse is that 'what everyone else is doing can't be that bad', are not true Catholics, not authentic disciples of Jesus, at all. And yet so many formerly nominal Catholic people today do not fight against moral corruption, allowing themselves to positively delight in ‘their own eggs’ -- the pleasures of darkness and self-esteem – people, that is, who turn most deliberately from the light and follow the pagan majority into fornication, divorce, adultery, contraception and, above all, into abortion; they steal, they malign, and they lie. Some even do such things and then consummate their sin by receiving the Eucharist without contrition, without confession, but with oodles of piteous self-deceit or disgusting hypocrisy and pseudo ‘personal integrity’.
People of God, be simple and sincere in all your dealings, and do not fail to be quietly but totally confident in Jesus’ promise that, because you are humbly trying to be His true disciples, you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and all the witness that you bear for Jesus will bring forth fruit in His good time that is both ‘pleasant and desirable’ for God’s people. Do not be eaten up with concern for yourself and your standing among men, but rather -- trying to be true to Jesus and His teaching in Mother Church -- trust in God and give Him a free hand to 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 and for you:
Your light shall break forth like the dawn, your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say, 'Here I am.'