The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 58:7-10  +  1 Corinthians 2:1-5  +  Matthew 5:13-16
Catechism Link: CCC 782
February 5, 2023

… your light shall break forth like the dawn ….

“God is light”, we hear in Sacred Scripture [1 John 1:5].  But in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus declares to His disciples:  “You are the light of the world.”  To help you live out this calling faithfully, and to carry out the “good deeds” that are the heart of this calling, today’s First and Second Readings prepare you for the Gospel Reading.

The First Reading, from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, is very practical.  It’s down to earth.  The prophet Isaiah is calling God’s People to carry out the sort of actions that in the Catholic Faith are called “the 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.

All seven of these corporal works of mercy—as well as the seven spiritual works of mercy—are very practical ways to live out your Catholic Faith.  Each of us carries out these works of mercy because God commands us to do so.  But of course, God only ever commands what is best for us.  When we follow the Lord’s commands, we grow in the likeness of God.

It follows that each of us carries out these works of mercy in order to love our God and our neighbor.  So God’s command and the desire to love—which are really two sides of the same coin—make for two sound motives for carrying out these works of mercy.

Yet the prophet Isaiah gives a third motive.  He prophesies to those who would 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 even greater.  In effect, the Gospel provides a fourth motive.  The Gospel promises that those who live the Gospel become light, and that God shines through them.

Today’s Gospel Reading, along with the following Gospel Readings that we’ll hear on the upcoming Sundays before Ash Wednesday, are taken from the Sermon on the Mount.  In St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, this lengthy sermon (taking up chapters 5-7 of Matthew) might be considered Jesus’ “inaugural address”.

Immediately after the Beatitudes (which we heard Jesus proclaim last Sunday) comes today’s Gospel Reading, in which Jesus calls His followers “salt” and “light”.  Jesus is calling you to be “the light of the world.”  But what does that mean in practical terms?

Jesus’ last sentence sheds light on what He means.  It’s basically a command, but it has three parts.  Jesus commands you 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.”  But why would others glorify your Father if it’s your good deeds that they see?

St. Paul in the Second Reading, in preaching to the Corinthians, 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.”  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.

When God asks us to do something for Him, our reflex often is to spell out for 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”.  Pastors often hear this when they ask parishioners to take up certain works of stewardship.  Christians believe that certain good works are simply not within their power.

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.