The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isa 58:7-10 + 1 Cor 2:1-5 + Mt 5:13-16
February 5, 2017
“… your light shall break forth like the dawn….”
- Emerging Light
Two summers ago I crossed off one of the items on my “bucket list”. The goal that I accomplished that summer was to travel during the week that Summer starts up to Alaska: far enough north to spend 24 hours without it getting pitch black.
There’s something about light that’s simply divine, and I mean that literally. Painters and poets alike know this, and reveal this through their artistry. If you were to put, side-by-side, two Renaissance paintings—one of them of the three Persons of the Trinity in Heaven, and the other of satan and other fallen angels in hell—you could be sure that the painting of Heaven would be filled with brilliant hues of white and gold, and maybe just the lightest shade possible of blue, while the one of hell would feature lots of black and dark shades of red and brown. Likewise, when the Italian poet Dante describes the Inferno that is Hell, he verbally paints a dark portrait of the blindness that comes from the absence of God. On the other hand, Dante illuminates our understanding of the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven by illustrating in verse those words that we profess in the Creed: that God the Son is “light from light, true God from true God”.
“God is light.” Those words come from God Himself in His Sacred Scripture. But today in our Gospel passage, Jesus declares that “You are the light of the world.” Jesus speaks these words to His disciples. So then, in order to help you live out this calling faithfully, and to live out the “good deeds” that are the bread and butter of this calling, the Church offers today’s First and Second Readings to give you a running jump into today’s Gospel passage.
2a. Old Testament light
Today’s First Reading, from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, is very practical. It’s down to earth. In Catholic terms, the prophet Isaiah is calling God’s People to carry out what are called “the corporal works of mercy”. You learned these growing up. God calls us to care for the physical needs of our neighbors. These corporal works of mercy are seven ways of expressing our love for our neighbors. You remember the seven corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
Each of you has opportunities every month to carry these out: not just among your family and friends, but also among those you don’t even know, who—as Jesus makes plain in the Parable of the Good Samaritan—are also your “neighbor”. With other parishioners you can travel to the Lord’s Diner to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. You can volunteer to serve those at the St. Anthony Family Shelter, and so clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. Through your parish, you can volunteer to visit the sick at the Catholic hospitals in Wichita, and to visit the imprisoned at jails throughout south-central Kansas. And within our parish, you can offer your time and talent in offering meals after funerals, in addition to joining in the rosaries and funeral Masses that are offered for the deceased of our parish family, whether you knew them personally or not.
All seven of these corporal works of mercy—as well as the seven spiritual works of mercy—are very practical ways in which you can live out your Catholic Faith. We do these works of mercy because God commands us to do so. We do these works of mercy because we love our God and our neighbor. But the prophet Isaiah gives yet another motive for carrying out these works of mercy. He prophesies to those who carry them out: “if you bestow your bread on the hungry… then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
The Old Testament promise was that God, who is light, would shine on those who carry out good deeds. But the Gospel of Jesus promises something more. The Gospel promises that those who live the Gospel become light, and that God shines through them. We hear this especially in today’s Gospel passage.
2b. “You are the light of the world.”
Today’s Gospel passage, along with those we’ll hear on all the Sundays between now and Ash Wednesday, come from the Sermon on the Mount. In St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus saves the best for first. In other words, He puts His cards on the table from the start. The Sermon on the Mount is the first great sermon of Jesus recorded by Matthew in his Gospel account. Immediately after the Beatitudes comes today’s Gospel passage, in which Jesus calls His followers “salt” and “light”. This includes you. Jesus is calling you to be “the light of the world.” But what does this mean in practical terms?
The very last sentence that Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage sheds light on what He means (if you’ll pardon the pun). This final sentence of Jesus is basically a command, but it has three parts. Jesus commands you this morning when He declares: “your light must shine before others, / [so] that they may see your good deeds / and [so that they may] glorify your heavenly Father.”
The first two phrases of this sentence seem to make perfect sense, especially given the background of the First Reading. Jesus a few sentences before had said that “you are the light of the world”, and here He’s saying that “your light must shine before others, [so] that [others] may see your good deeds”. It would make perfect sense to figure that “your light” consists of “your good deeds”. At least, it would make sense if not for the last phrase of Jesus’ last sentence today. Jesus declares that “your light must shine before others, / [so] that [others] may see your good deeds / and [so that others may] glorify your heavenly Father.” Why would others glorify your Father if it’s your good deeds that they see?
2c. “Know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
St. Paul in our Second Reading points us towards the answer. In preaching to the Corinthians, he offers us the skeleton key that unlocks the meaning of Jesus’ words. St. Paul says, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling … so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.” And what is this “power of God”? St. Paul answers this question for us, also. This power is “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”. Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, destroyed the power of death by His own suffering and death. So if this is true of Jesus, won’t it be all the more true for us here today?
Often, when God asks us to do something for Him, our reflex is to give God all the reasons why we cannot help Him with His request. Generally at the top of the list is our explanation to God that we just “can’t do that”. It’s not within our power, we tell ourselves and God. But maybe that’s God’s point. Maybe God wants to use a weak instrument such as yourself, so that His power shines more clearly. Maybe when you imitate Jesus Christ crucified, by allowing your weakness to be the vessel of God’s power, people will see your good deeds and glorify the Father who loves you enough to ask you to serve Him through your weakness.
- The Light of Jesus Christ Crucified
The saints tell us that God asks us often to serve Him this way. The service God asks may be a small deed, a large deed, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter how big the job is that God asks of you, because if God asks you to accomplish something for Him, He’s also going to give you the means by which to accomplish it: that means being “the power of God”, which is personal conformity of your life to the life of Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified.
 1 John 1:5.