Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time: 2-5-17
Peace be with You,
Two weekends ago we found Jesus beginning his public ministry. By noting his methodology we found that the work he has come to accomplish is essentially a work of re-unification; symbolized by the starting of his public ministry with two of the northernmost so called “lost tribes” of Israel, i.e. Zebulun and Naphtali. Admittedly, from both the Jewish historical perspective and our contemporary perspective (though perhaps for different reasons) it takes great attention to detail and a different way of thinking of what the Messiah should be to see Jesus as the Savior that he is. For this reason, we heard Jesus tell us that we must “repent,” i.e. change our way of thinking, if we are to understand him and his work. To be sure, this new way of thinking is quite contrary to the way of the world, and to our seemingly “natural” tendencies, as evidenced by the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells us that it is the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. However, as we found last week with the help of Augustine, living the beatitudes disposes us to being transformed and brought into conformity with Christ’s message of repentance one step at a time. Put simply, we can understand our living out the beatitudes as our incarnating the new way of thinking Christ came to proclaim in word, deed and in his very person; a way of thinking characterized by one word, unity.
Take a look around at the world and you will quickly find that if there is one thing that we lack it is unity. Across the globe we hear whispers and rumors of potential war as countries continue to amass weapons of mutual destruction, always with implicit threat to their neighbors in the world community. And here in the United States, the last two weekends have witnessed a disturbing false dichotomy in our collective conscience in the form of marches on our nation’s capital, feigning a distinction between a right to life and a right to “choose” while dividing the most primal relationship of our existence, that of mother and child. In short, we are divided as a people both nationally and internationally, and we can be sure that the extent of our division is a proportionally accurate measure of our brokenness. And it is amidst this brokenness that today we are called to be the light and salt of the world.
So the question must be what does it mean to be the light and salt of the world? Let’s begin with the former. A couple of weekends ago we used a simple exercise to meditate on the effect light has upon us. Put simply, we found that light has the ability to display the reality of our surroundings, allowing us to see things as they really are. With this understanding we drew a parallel to the person of Jesus Christ, who the Church, beginning with the prologue of John, has consistently understood to be the Light (cf. John 1:4-5 & 8:12) in the Platonic use of the term, i.e. in his very person Jesus Christ reveals the underlying truth of reality such that we may call him the Truth (cf. John 14:6). And what is this truth?
The truth is that the created order of things is not disposed to division, which is why when we hear of the bad news mentioned above; we experience a level of discomfort and repulsion. Instead, the Truth is unity; a unity which springs from the very life of our God which is a tri-unity of Divine Persons, from all of eternity engaged in a dynamic exchange of complete self-gift. It is this dynamism which gushes forth the created order intending it to partake of the dynamic Life of its creator, realized most perfectly by the Son of God who became the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, with the set intention of once again incorporating the whole human family, and subsequently, all of creation, into the very life of its Creator, a life of true Love. Put differently, the Light has come into the world in order to illuminate it.
This last point is crucial to our understanding of what it means for us to be the light of the world (Matt 5:14). It is pertinent that we do not think of ourselves as individual sources of light, for we simply have no essential light of our own which to emit. In order for the metaphor to hold, we would do better to understand ourselves as diamonds, transmitting the Life of Him Who is the True Light to the world. Consider for a moment that a diamond, on its own, has no ability to bear forth its sparkle, fire or brilliance; however, should it be brought into the light its natural properties come to life. So too, as human persons, we have no life on our own, no light which to share of our own nature; instead we must be brought into the Light of Life in order for our properties to shine; our talents, personality traits, etc. In other words, to shine the light of Truth into our world, we must be united to him who is Truth, Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we believe that we are “ignited” by the Light at Baptism. In other words, we are infused by the life of our God, having the smudge of original sin which impairs our ability to shine wiped clean. Along this same line of thinking, Nicholas Cabasilas writes “for this reason Baptism is called ‘illumination.’ Since it confers true being it makes men known to God; it leads to that light it removes from darkness and wickedness…Since it removes all defilement it bestows on men pure converse with the light, removing as it were a barrier which blocks off the divine radiance from our souls” (The Life in Christ, Bk. 2.2). Having been infused with this Light, we are sent out into the world to dispel the darkness which breeds the division so prevalent in our world today.
Now to be sure, just as every individual diamond has its own unique qualities, so too, as human persons we are all inherently unique, and no one will transmit the Light of Life in the exact same way as someone else. However, our first reading for today gives us some fundamental behaviors that are universally conducive to transmitting this Light. Therein, the prophet relates the message to the people that it was for the express reason of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and clothing the naked that God has liberated them from captivity (Is. 58:7). Moreover, he exhorts the people to remove from [their] midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech (Is. 58:9). If they do this, the prophet tells them “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” (Is. 58:8). Notice the beautiful imagery the prophet is painting here; if the people live as God calls them to, God’s light will surround them, illuminating the whole of their lives.
Today, Jesus calls us to do the same, trusting in the same promise God once made to our brothers and sisters in the faith, the people of Israel. However, notice please that functioning as transmitters of light has the explicit purpose of illuminating the lives of others in order that they too may transmit this same Light. The reason we tend to the poor and needy is not because it is some nice thing to do, we do so because loving them both allows the Light to pass through us more completely and enables them to begin shining with their own unique brilliance and in turn shed more light on our own life and the lives of all whom they come to meet.
It is with this understanding that we can now understand what it means for us to be the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13). For our purposes, we might consider two basic functions of salt. First, when put into a dish, salt is not so much meant to exude its own flavor as much as it is meant to bring out the flavors of the other elements of the dish. A second function of salt (which we don’t think of much today with the technology we have to refrigerate food) is the preservation of food, i.e. it prevents food from spoiling or “going bad.” Thus, if we apply the metaphor to the calling which our Savior has for us today, we might say first, that we are called to bring out the richness in the lives of others, enabling them to share what they have to offer by giving ourselves to them in love. Secondly and simultaneously, through the way we live our lives we are meant to give witness to and preserve the truth, this truth being that though vastly diverse as a people; the human race is meant to be unified.
My friends, today we are called to the grand tasks of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Put differently, we are called to work towards the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven proclaimed by Jesus two weeks ago which last week he promised to the humble. We might consider that the images of salt and light are humble in and of themselves, things which add greatly to our lives but don’t scream out for attention on their own. However, they do enhance the life around them. As light, we are called to testify to the Truth, that each and every individual of our human family has been created in such a way as to transmit the Light of Life uniquely, enabling a fuller vision of the meaning of life, and therefore, when one is prevented from living in the light, the experience of all suffers. Put differently, when we leave some in the dark, enabling the interests of some to block their access to the light, we cast a shadow upon the whole human family. And just as salt only gives flavor to the whole dish by being dissolved into it, so too we are called to give of ourselves completely in order to preserve the message that we have no light of our own and the divisions we inflict upon ourselves only serve to divide us from our source of Life and Light itself, Jesus Christ, who came that all might experience the glorious life of our God as One (John 17:22-23).
Your servant in Christ,