Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Theme: You are the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth
In his 1969 hit song, ‘Try a Little Kindness’, Glen Campbell sings ‘Just shine your light for everyone to see’, echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples in today’s gospel: ‘Your light must shine in the sight of people’ (Mt 5:14). Light is one of the oldest and most important symbols found in all religions and cultures. It is the central symbol of Christianity. The God we worship is not just the source of light. He is light. In the words of St John’s first letter, ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all’ (1 Jn 1:5). Jesus, the Son of God and ‘perfect copy of his nature’ (Heb 1:3) ‘is the true light who enlightens everyone in the world’ (Jn 1:9).
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to reflect the light of Christ in the world of our time: ‘You are the light of the world’ (Mt: 5:14). This is our fundamental vocation and constant challenge. Today’s readings clarify this vocation, answering the questions how and why we are to be ‘the light of the world’. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah, tells us that it is by speaking and acting with justice and compassion that we bring light into the darkness of the world: ‘If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, if you give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed, your light will shine in the darkness’ (Is 58:10). The responsorial psalm confirms Isaiah’s plea which was never more relevant than in our time. By being generous, merciful and just, the good person ‘is a light in the darkness for the upright’ (Ps 111:4).
The testimony of Aristides, a second century philosopher reveals how well the early Christian community reflected the light of Christ by the witness of their lives. Writing to the Emperor Hadrian in defence of the Christians, he states that: ‘Christians love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If one member of the community has something, he gives freely to those who have nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home as through he were a real brother…. There is something divine in them.’ I sometimes wonder if others see something divine in Christian communities today. Do our lives shine as brightly in our world as the lives of the early Christians did in the world of their time?
Like the early Christians we must let the divine light that is in us shine brightly for all to see. But we are to do this not to blow our own trumpet or draw attention to ourselves, but rather to bring others to recognise and acknowledge the presence of God in us. We do it so that, as Jesus tells his disciples, others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (cf. Mt 5:16). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also warns his disciples to ‘be careful not to parade your good deeds before people to attract their notice; by doing that you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven’ (Mt 6:1). There is a big difference between parading our light and being a light. The difference is well illustrated in the life of a modern saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who left her comfortable life in a European cloister to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta. She didn’t do this to give a good example to others. She did it out of love – a love so palpable that it moved the hearts of even hardened journalists.
In today’s gospel Jesus uses the image of salt, as well as light, to illustrate the role of his disciples in the world. Jesus wants his disciples to be the salt of the earth. In the past salt was a highly valued and expensive commodity. It was often a favourite item of taxation. Salt preserves, purifies and seasons food. Since the advent of refrigeration, it has lost some of its importance but is still an essential part of our diet. What Jesus is highlighting is the distinctive taste that salt adds to food. But salt only produces its effect when it is merged with the food. It is indistinguishable from the rest of the food, but its presence or absence is noticed immediately. In the same way, the disciples of Jesus can only be truly effective when they are fully part of society while, at the same time, adding an unmistakable flavour to that society.
The images of light and salt illustrate the positive role that we, as disciples of Jesus, are called to play in the world. We are intended to be God’s instruments in the renewal of the world, in bringing out its inherent goodness (its flavour) and drawing it towards its ultimate divine destiny. But we cannot play this role if we hide our lights under a bushel or lose our distinctive flavour (saltiness) as disciples of Jesus. We have to be in the world, but not of the world. In the words of the great French novelist, Albert Camus, ‘The world today needs Christians who remain Christians’.
Fr Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.
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