5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON FEBRUARY 9, 2020 (R. 1: Isaiah 58: 7- 10; Psalm 112: 4- 5, 6- 7, 8- 9; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 2: 1- 5; Gospel: Matthew 5: 13- 16)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
TURN ON YOUR LIGHT!
When Jesus came into this world as a human being, many people saw him as a Rabbi. But there was something different about him compared to other Rabbis. In this difference lies the essence of Christianity. Christianity is about a person, and not a teaching; it is about the person of Jesus Christ. The goal of Christianity is the ontological change it effects in the Christian; it is not about what we get to know but who we become. Rabbis typically imparted knowledge; they were known to give knowledge (outside of themselves) to their students. But Jesus came to give, not just knowledge, but his person. At his Last Supper, he would say to his disciples, “Take…this is my body…Take…this is my blood…” The goal of this giving of himself is for the recipient to become a new person, another Jesus Christ ultimately. As such, in calling his first followers, he did not say, “Come, and I will teach you,” or “…and I will give you knowledge.” Rather, he said, “Follow me, and I will make you…” Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. There in the Temple, Simeon recognized Jesus as the Light to the Gentiles. Today, Jesus is elevating his followers to be on the same level as himself, and so he says, “You are the light of the world.”
Images of the light can be seen right from the beginning of the bible to the end. The first recorded words of God in the bible came as early as Genesis 1: 3. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters, “God said, ‘Let there be light’…God saw that light was good.” And when we get to the last chapter of the Bible, we read that God’s servants will see Him face to face and “It will never be night again, and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God [who is the true Light] will be shining on them”(Revelation 22:3- 5).
In the first reading, the Israelites just returned from exile in Babylon, and things were not going on well for them. They prayed to God and fasted without seeing results. They decided that there was no need to fast since God was not listening. It was at that point that the Prophet Isaiah came up to challenge them that the fault was not with God. He said the fault was with their fast, which was not good. He explained that the fast, which is good, is, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked…” He went on to say that if that is done, then “Your light will rise in the darkness.” The selection from The Psalms says, “The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright,” and in the Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world.”
What does light have in common with salt? Primarily, they do not bring about material additions to things but rather, they bring out the hidden qualities in things. Salt, for example, plays an important role in bringing out the flavor hidden in the other ingredients. It harmonizes the flavors from the other ingredients to bring about the deliciousness of the meal. Similarly, light does not add anything to the place, which it illumines. For example, the people, the pews, and other things in this Church were not brought into the Church by the light, but the light reveals the contents of the Church and makes it possible for us not to stumble into the chairs and not to step on one another. It is the same light that reveals the smiles I can see on your faces that give me the confidence that it is safe to talk to you.
Therefore, when Jesus refers to us as the salt of the earth and light of the world, it entails that we are called to draw out the goodness already inherent in God’s created order. When God finished his work of creation, he saw that all he created was good. As such, Christians are not called to flee the world, or to condemn the world but to shine to reveal the good in the world, to bring out the flavor in God’s creation. We are called to provide the illumination that can bring out the talents in others for the good of the community. And as Isaiah said, we are to avoid “false accusation and malicious speech” that can cause people to crash into one another and bring about disunity. Our call is to emphasize the good in people and things and to de-emphasize the seeming evil in the world. No one is so bad that they have nothing good in them, for we all come from the same Good God.
Today’s passage immediately follows the beatitudes; the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. It is by living the beatitudes (poor in spirit, meek, peacemakers, etc.) that we become the light of the world and the salt of the earth. It is a great responsibility. When the food is tasteless, you add salt, when a room is dark, you don’t blame the darkness, you put on the light. If the country is bad, it is not because of the bad people; it is because of Christians who have refused to be Christians. To this effect, John Chrysostom would say, “Assuredly, there would be no heathen if we Christians took care to be what we ought to be; if we obeyed God’s precepts, if we bore injuries without retaliation if when cursed we blessed if we rendered good for evil. For no man is so savage a wild beast that he would not run forthwith to the worship of the true religion if he saw all Christians acting as I have said.”
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This world is not our permanent home. We are all sojourners, guests, or visitors. Remember, all guests bring happiness; some bring happiness when they come, while others bring happiness when they leave. Which one are you?