Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A
Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
About twelve years ago, my wife, son, and I were returning from a trip to visit my in-laws. We needed to take three flights to get back home after the New Year’s holiday. My son was only about seven months old at the time, and unfortunately we believe that on the first flight his ears plugged up with the pressure changes, despite our trying to get him to suck on a bottle to prevent it. This in turn meant that he cried the entire time during the next two flights. As you can imagine, it was a horrible experience for us and those around us. There were just a few people on those flights that were unkind to us, not in what they said but in the looks they threw at us. Thinking about this even today will bring a tear to my wife’s eye. But most people were kind, and would tell us not to worry or share personal experiences of traveling with kids. They threw lifelines to my distraught wife, which she very much needed at the time.
Matthew’s Gospel of the last several weeks has an overall theme, which if we can figure it out, is gets at the heart of Christ’s mission. The readings for the last three Sunday Gospels have been sequential, from the middle of the fourth chapter of Matthew to the middle of the fifth. The Gospel two weeks ago was about Jesus being the light of the world, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Last week, Matthew related the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes. Today we hear that, not only is Jesus the light of the world, but by extension we as followers of Christ are lights to the world. How does all this fit together?
The two clues that we are given today are light and salt. What do those things have in common? What they have in common is that they are generally not something that someone wants for their own individual value, in and of themselves. No one wants salt for dinner. And no one wants to turn on a light so that they can stare at the lightbulb. No, people use these things because they help bring out qualities of other things. Salt makes things taste better, and light allows us to see other things with more clarity. So Christ is asking us to be catalysts, to spur people to do good in this world through what we are able to bring about, including good through others and to others.
This is what Isaiah tells us in the first reading. If you help those who most need it, “your light shall break forth like the dawn” [Isaiah 58:8a NABRE]. The light that Isaiah and Jesus talk about relates directly to the beatitudes. He tells us that blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who want righteousness. How are they blessed? By God, certainly, but then he tells all of us that we ourselves are to be that blessing to them as well. Christ’s whole message throughout his time on earth was about loving those less fortunate, showing unconditional acceptance of them as human beings, being compassionate, and always being kind. It is the light that Saint Teresa of Calcutta spoke of when someone asked her how she could continue on knowing that there would still be so many problems despite all her efforts. She reported said, “We are not called to be successful, but [to be] faithful” [ https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1030653-we-are-not-called-to-be-success... ]. Having faith is an internal act, certainly, but it is also an external act, a life of being a light to others, of being faithful disciples, and of helping those that need it so that, according to today’s Gospel, “they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" [Matthew 5:16b NABRE].
During our plane trip when our son was an infant, there were plenty of people who were lights to us, that showed us kindness and said words of comfort. Being souls ‘poor in spirit,’ we latched onto these in our misery and helplessness. As many of you know, Nor and I were married at St. James, and this is the only parish that our son Ben has known. After he was born, we initially tried to get to Mass early and get a good seat on an aisle at the back of the church so that one of us could make a quick exit if Ben started to cry or fuss. We quickly learned that almost everyone here didn’t mind too much his fussing as we thought they would. With so many retired people here, most are happy to see the young children at church and tend to dote on them when they come. I’ve often said that Ben has had many adopted grandparents here. They have been some of what former President George Bush the Elder called “a thousand points of light.” But then again, Christ called them that first.
As we continue with our celebration, may the blessing of our sacramental communion together be a part of the blessing promised to us by Christ in the beatitudes. Let us pray for all of those who are less fortunate, and always be mindful of how we can be lights in their lives, or the salt which brings out their God-given graces despite the hardships they face. May all know we are Christians not because we tell them so but because they can see our light, shining for all to see.