5th Ordinary Sunday (A)
First Reading: Is 58:7-10 Second Reading: 1Cor 2:1-5 Gospel Reading: Mt 5:13-16
“THE JUST PERSON IS A LIGHT IN DARKNESS TO THE UPRIGHT.”
Today is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. There is an emphasis in today’s Scripture Readings on making the Christian faith shine in our lives. The Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew, calls us to be deeply aware of our Christian dignity and responsibility as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Salt and light are powerful images of discipleship. What does it mean to be salt and light? The First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah speaks in terms of justice and compassionate care for the weak, needy and vulnerable. For, through them the very goodness of God is revealed. And in that way, the disciple’s light will shine like the dawn. The Responsorial Psalm corroborates with this saying that “The just person is a light in darkness to the upright.” The Second Reading from St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians intensifies the Christian character of our vocation as “the light of the world.” The light we are to bring is light concerning the central object of our faith, namely, “Christ crucified.” It is for this that the Spirit fills us with his power.
“YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH;YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.”
Today' Gospel Reading from St. Matthew follows immediately on the Beatitudes, which we heard last Sunday and it says that the Beatitudes must not only be lived but seen to be lived. The Gospel reminds us that it is essential for the Christian disciple both to be seen and heard.
At the start of his ministry, St. Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, namely, that he is 'the great light' that will disperse the shadow of death, of sin, that has enveloped the world. Now Jesus is sharing this task to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world" - these are the two greatest compliments Jesus gives to them. What do they mean and what are their implications?
a) “You are the Salt of the earth.”
An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him. One daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. One said she loved him more than all the silver in the world. The youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt. The king was not pleased with this answer. But the cook overheard the conversation, so the next day he prepared a good meal for the king, but left out the salt. The food was so insipid that the king couldn’t eat it. Then he understood what his daughter meant. He understood the value of salt.
Yes, salt is a basic and essential item in our diet and the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to food. Food without salt is sadly insipid and even a sickening thing. Salt is so important that one can’t even imagine living without it.
Next, salt in olden days, was connected with purity, for it came from purest of all things viz. the sun and the sea. So, salt was most primitive of all offerings to gods; even the Jews always added salt to all their offerings to God.
Also, in ancient times, salt was the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad. So, salt preserves things from getting corrupted.
So, when Jesus says to his followers – “You are the salt of the earth”, it simply means that a follower of Jesus must lend flavor to life, bringing joy & gladness, happiness & peace, justice & love, care & concern, hope & consolation, among whom he lives. He also has to be upon this earth, an example of absolute purity in speech, in conduct and even in thought, living a life of honesty, diligence & conscientiousness. He further has to preserve the good and prevent the evil in the society, and save it from deteriorating; by his very presence he has to defeat corruption of all kinds. Surely, it is not an easy and a mean compliment. Also, when he used this image of salt, Jesus would have meant how a disciple of his must be valuable and precious like the salt. Just as insipid salt is of no use in flavoring or preserving food, so too the so-called 'disciples' are of no use if they fail to live as Christ teaches. The corruption of the best is the worst. Those called to be the greatest constitute the worst tragedy if they fail.
b) “You are the light of the world.”
In his second imagery Jesus emphasizes the essential visibility of the Christian. He says that a Christian disciple must be the light of the world.
The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. The preacher's text was, "I am the light of the world." At the close of the service, she went to the minister and said, "Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?" The minister replied, "No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world, and I am one of the lights." The little lass looked at him for a moment, and then solemnly said, "Well, sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, 'cause it's awful dark down there!" Christians are, indeed, as the Master said, "the light of the world." As one of those lights, are you "hanging out" in some dark alley?
Now, the first and foremost a light is something, which is meant to be seen. It therefore implies that in the true sense, there cannot be a secret Christian discipleship as such – for either the secrecy will betray the discipleship or the discipleship will destroy the secrecy. Thus a disciple of Jesus must be perfectly visible in the world.
Again, a light is meant to be a guide by shedding its rays and showing the way. It also sends a warning, when there is a danger lying ahead. It implies that a follower of Jesus is to be an example to others and to positively influence them; at the same time lovingly giving them warnings of the dangers of the evil in the world.
Again, Jesus uses two more images to emphasize the essential visibility of the Christian. He speaks of a 'city built on top of a hill.' It sticks out like a sore thumb. There is no way to hide it. And he speaks of a 'lamp on a lamp-stand.' What is the point in lighting a lamp then covering it up? In effect, we are either a light to others or we block the light.
Finally, as we become salt and light to others, let us do so for the reason Jesus gives us: "Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." Just as the moon only reflects the light of the sun, the good works we do should not only reflect but also point to the Source of all goodness - God Himself. That is to say that our good deeds should not be self-glorifying, but God-glorifying.
“YOUR LIGHT SHALL BREAK FORTH LIKE THE DAWN.”
In the First Reading of today Prophet Isaiah asks the people of Israel to be the shining light to all the people. He speaks in terms of justice and compassionate care for the weak, needy and vulnerable. He exhorts them to share their bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless, to clothe the naked when they see them, and not to turn their back on their own. For, through them the very goodness of God is revealed. And in that way, “your light shall break forth like the dawn.” He further reminds them that if they act justly then their integrity vindication will go before them and the glory of the Lord behind them and “light shall rise for you in the darkness.”
SHINING BY PROCLAIMING “JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED.”
In the Second Reading of today from St. Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians, we also can see Paul being a light to the world. Paul tells them that he comes to them in all humility, that he is nothing in himself, but that the light of Christ shines through him because he only proclaims “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul’s preaching of the Good News is his way of doing what God has called him to do, not for his own glory, but so others may see the Spirit and the power of God. He too is trying to establish the new kingdom, but not by using the charisma of one person, but by letting the Gospel speak for itself.
To follow Christ is always radical. The invitation of today's Scripture Readings is to be illuminated ourselves. By grace we can participate in the light of God, and can become a means of spreading that light to others. The gift which God gives us especially to become enlightened through his grace is, of course, faith. By faith our intellect is strengthened and raised up. This is a breath-taking and awesome gift. Regardless of whether we are physically sighted or not, whether we are academically gifted or not, the gift of faith helps us see and understand supernatural saving realities, even on this earth.
Let us then become true followers of Jesus, just as St. Paul says in the Second Reading of today, proclaiming “Jesus Christ, and crucified” through our lives - in action & speech, works & words and through our behavior, and fully trust not on human wisdom, but on the power of God. This way we can truly become “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” for we know that “The just person is a light in darkness to the upright.” And this is the Good news of today.