5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 5, 2023

 

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 5, 2023

Isaiah 58: 7-10; 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16

 

Theme: We are the Salt and the Light of our Societies Darkened by the Devil

Last Sunday, we read in the Gospel the first part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” called “the Beatitudes” (Matthew 5: 1-12a). Jesus taught us what it means to be counted among the “blessed” in the heavenly kingdom that he came to inaugurate. Today’s Gospel is the continuation of this Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus does not address his followers in the third person plural as he did in the Beatitudes’ teaching. Rather, he says to them and to each one of us directly, “You are the salt of the earth”. “You are the light of the world”. From Isaiah’s exhortation that we heard in our first reading, we can understand what it means to be “the salt” and the “light” of the world. He calls us to share what we have with the poor and oppressed. In the context of our Gospel, being the “salt” and the “light” is not merely sharing what we have but includes also and especially sharing “who we are”. In the second reading, Saint Paul uses his own example as a follower of Jesus to try to convince the Christians of Corinth not to rely on human wisdom but on the power of God. Saint Paul’s Christian lifestyle is a perfect example for us of the one who is the “salt” and the “light” of the world.  

Today’s first reading is taken from the third major section of the book of Isaiah called the “Third Isaiah” (chapters 56-66). While the “First Isaiah” (chapters 1-39) recounts the life of the Israelites before the exile, and the “Second Isaiah” (chapters 40-55) focuses on their lives during exile, the chapters of the “Third Isaiah” speak of the Hebrew people when they have returned from exile in Babylon to their land. Note that the author of this Third Isaiah is unknown, and the book is attributed to Isaiah. So, the context of our first reading passage is that the people of Israel started a new life in their land after the Babylonian exile. With the great joy of their freedom, they concentrate on building their new nation. Here Isaiah teaches them that their priority should rather be the good treatment of the poor and oppressed among them. It is not the beauty of the new buildings that they construct that will make their restored generation shine like the light. Rather, it is by sharing their bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, and clothing the naked that will make their nation shine forth like dawn. (v. 7). Moreover, when they focus on this priority of treating the poor and marginalized with love, then God will hear their prayer when they call upon him; then God will heal their wound of exile quickly; then their vindication shall go before them; and then the glory of the Lord shall be their rear guard. (v. 8). We too must be concerned about priorities. First things first! Working on the maintenance of our Church and other buildings is fine. Coming to worship God in our beautiful Church or at home with our families is even wonderful but not enough. Our Church community should be socially concerned. Isaiah in this first reading reminds us that the priority of our Church should be taking care of the elderly, shut-ins, sick, and needy of our Church community. Only when we do well in the outreach ministry, then our Church Saint Bartholomew/Saint Augustine shine its light, God will hear our prayers and be our guard, and our “wounds” and sickness will be healed.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples including you and me that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Note that only by being dissolved in food does salt give it its taste, and only by diffusing itself in the darkness does light enlighten. So, while Isaiah asked us to share what we have with the poor and oppressed of our community, Jesus goes far and asks us to share, not only what we have, but also and especially who we are. Also, in Jesus’ statements, our sharing is not only with a selected group (poor and oppressed) but this time it is with the world. So, Jesus calls us to share ourselves with the world. No doubt the comprehension of the salt and light that we have today may be quite different from that of the time of Jesus.  To better understand what Jesus means by using the images of salt and light in his statements, we must first know the importance and the roles of salt and light in the Old Testament and in Jesus’ time.

Let us start with the salt first. “You are the salt of the earth”. (Matthew 5: 13). Salt was a critical necessity in the Old Testament (Sirach 39: 26). At that time, people did not have refrigerators as we have today. They used salt to season and preserve foods from spoiling. Salt was also used for purifying (see 2 Kings 2: 19-22). In the Old Testament, the people of Israel used salt in liturgical functions (see Exodus 30: 35; Leviticus 2: 13; Ezekiel 43: 24; Ezra 6: 9). Salt was also used to ratify covenants. (See Numbers 18: 19; 2 Chronicles 13: 5). Ezra 4: 14 shows us that eating salt with someone means a bond of friendship and loyalty. So, the roles of salt are to give flavor, preserve, purify, celebrate (liturgy), ratify covenants, and bond friendship and loyalty. These are what you and I are expected to do as the “salt of the earth.”

In our societies today, there are several cases of depression and suicide because many people are losing hope, joy, and the “taste” of life. We are “the salt of the earth” to bring hope, joy, and flavor to these people. We are “the salt of the earth” to “preserve” the people (especially our youth) from being spoiled by the false teachings of social media and any other immoral practices that lead them to immoral conduct. We are “the salt of the earth” to purify the people by drawing them to the Church.

The people of Israel were using salt in the liturgy. God said to Moses, “Take these aromatic substances: storax and onycha and galbanum, these, and pure frankincense in equal parts; and blend them into incense. This fragrant powder, expertly prepared, is to be salted and so kept pure and sacred.  Grind some of it into fine dust and put this before the covenant in the tent of meeting where I will meet you. This incense shall be treated as most sacred by you.” (Exodus 30: 34-36). The liturgy uses “salted incense” to venerate, bless, and sanctify. It reminds us of the sweet-smelling presence of our Lord. Then when Jesus says that we are “the salt of the earth”, he means that we are called to be involved in the liturgy of the Eucharist to venerate God, bless him, and sanctify the people we meet.

Salt also symbolized the ratification of covenants. (See Numbers 18:19; 2 Chronicles 13: 5). By saying that we are the salt of the earth, Jesus is saying that we should be the symbols of the covenant that God has concluded with his people through him. Our Christian lifestyle should inspire the people to stay in this covenant. Whenever they break it through sin, our role is to call them to bond back their relationship and loyalty to God.

To be the salt of the earth is to accomplish several missions where we live such as the mission of giving flavor, preserving, purifying, being part of the liturgy, ratifying the new covenant through Jesus, and bonding friendship and loyalty. We will be able to fulfill these missions only if we do not lose the “taste of our Christian life”. This is what Jesus says in the second part of v. 13. “But if the salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5: 13b). The salt that loses its taste is compared to people who claim to be Christians just because of their baptisms but do not take part actively to the mission of the Church. Here Jesus exhorts us to be active Christians who renew our “Christian taste” by living regularly the seven sacraments that he established, especially the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession.

Kerosene lantern - Energy EducationLamp and Lantern Fuel, Shades, Parts and AccessoriesLet us now analyze the second statement, “You are the light of the world”. (Matthew 5: 14). Note that at the time of Jesus, they did not have the electrical power that we have today. In this analysis, I will refer to the traditional oil lamp used in Jesus’ time. I chose a sample image of an oil lamp. It is not quite the type of lamp used in Jesus’ time, but it is similar in terms of its functionality. I chose this type because many of us, especially parents & grandparents, may remember it. I personally used it when I was growing up. In this oil lamp, there are different parts, but I want to focus on some of them that I find very important to connect with our Gospel namely, the fuel tank, lantern fuel (oil), wicks, and wick-raiser knob.

 

Since we are the light of the world, to give light, we always need fuel in our fuel tanks, wicks, and wick-raiser knobs. “Fuel” in our fuel tanks means that we need a personal relationship with Jesus and prayer life in our lives. “Wicks” represents our Christian lifestyles. “Wick-raiser knob” can be the celebration of the Eucharist (Mass), Bible study/sharing, charity works, and any spiritual activities that help to raise up our Christian lifestyles or increase our faith.

Notice how this oil lamp functions. One part of the wick must be in the oil (fuel) so the dry part of the wick can give light when lit. If there is no oil in the fuel tank, the dry part of the wick cannot light. Since we are the light of the world, our “Christian lifestyle” (the wick) must give light. To do so, one part of our Christian lives must get spiritual strength from our relationship with Jesus and from our prayer lives so that the other part of it gives light to the people. If we do not have “a prayer life” and “a personal relationship with Jesus” (oil), our “Christian lifestyles” (wicks) cannot give light.

Note that the more the wick gives light, the more it burns and finishes off. Someone needs to use the wick raiser knob to raise the wick up so that it continues to give light. If no one turns it up manually, it will turn off because it does not rise by itself. This means, that the more we give light, the more our “Christian lives” (wicks) decrease. God is the one who raises our “wicks” up through the priests, parents/grandparents, teachers, and each one of us. Their teachings, encouragements, and prayers raise our Christian lives, so we continue to give light to the people around us.

Also, the more the lamp gives light, the more the oil dries up. Hence, more oil is needed from time to time. Our “one-on-one relationship with Jesus” and “prayer lives” (oil) dry up gradually due to the challenges we face in our mission of lighting the world. Therefore, from time to time, we are called to reinforce our “personal relationship with Jesus” and our “prayer life” (meaning adding oil to our oil tanks) by using the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), Bible reading/Study/Sharing, doing charity works, and any other spiritual activities.

In verses 14b-16, Jesus reminds us that our societies, Church community, and families are like “the city set on a mountain” that cannot be hidden. A “hidden city” is a city that the people do not see (at night) because it is in darkness. The societies, Church communities, and families in which we live cannot be hidden as long as we Christians are here. We are called to put our “Christian lamps”, not under “bushel baskets”, but on “lampstands”. This means we are called to live our Christian lifestyles openly before the people without fear or shame and shine our lights in this world darkened by the devil so that people come to recognize God and glorify him through our good deeds.

Our world is being darkened more and more by the devil. The people are losing the “taste” or the sense of Christian life. Jesus reminds us that we are the salt of the earth to bring the “taste” of being children of God to the people and help them to come back to their relationship with him. We are also the light of this world where evil practices darken. Our mission is to shine the light of our Christian lifestyle before the people and draw them to God. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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