Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time—February 9, 2014

imagesIn the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promised blessing on those willing to follow Him.  But what did He want them to do with that blessing?

By Gayle Somers

Gospel (Read Mt 5:13-16)

St. Matthew tells us that as Jesus preached to a large crowd gathered on a mountain, He described for them the life of blessing (the Beatitudes; see Mt 5:3-11).  There were some surprises in it!  He pronounced those who experienced poverty of spirit, mourning, hunger for righteousness, and persecution in their lives with God as “blessed.”  He was calling His followers to a life that looked way beyond what could be seen and observed in this world, a life built on the conviction that there is more here than meets the eye.  Then, however, He completely changes course; He makes a rapid shift from the otherworldly to the this-worldly.  Why?

Jesus tells His followers that even though they must understand all their difficulties or suffering within the much larger context of the life of the world to come, they must not forget life in this world.  Paradoxically, to live a truly otherworldly life makes a believer the “salt” and “light” of this world.  Here Jesus gives us the real meaning of the work He came to do.  He wants His followers to live by faith in Him, to believe that this earthly life is not our final end.  That, of course, will make us misfits in this world.  Yet the very fact that we live this way—living the peace and blessedness of the Beatitudes—makes us into people who “salt” the earth.  By the transformation of our lives in Christ, we give taste to the otherwise drab meaningless of life without God.  As the people of God, the Church, we are praying, always and everywhere, for the salvation of all the people.  As we do this work, we are the sacrament of salvation—the “salt” that preserves the human race.

When we live in obedience to Christ’s law of love (the Beatitudes), we become “the light of the world,” because we share with others God’s unconditional love for us.  The world without God is a world starved for love, a world that sits in the darkness of self-centeredness and pride.  Jesus tells us:  “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

There is a warning for us here, too.  We are “salt” and “light” in the world as long as we work at it.  We must take care not to lose our taste or hide our light.  How does that happen?  The greatest threat to our being what we are called to be is when we forget that we have been “blessed” in order to bless others.  What Christ does in us through the transformation only He can do (described in the Beatitudes) is meant to make us like Him.  That is, we embrace a life of self-denying love for others.  To be a Christian is to have the vocation of love for God and our neighbor.  When we lose sight of this through laziness, self-absorption, self-righteousness, etc., we lose our taste and our light.

Life without God in this world is bland, tasteless.  It is lived in the dark and ultimately ends in the utter darkness of separation from God.  Jesus has a remedy—us.  Are we willing to listen to Him and follow?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me remember today that the blessedness You give me is meant to bless others, too.

First Reading (Read Isa 58:7-10)

We see here that Jesus’ emphasis on good works in the life of a believer was not really new.  The prophet, Isaiah, described how acts of unconditional love for others, especially the needy, make God’s people into light that “shall break forth like the dawn.”  In their context, Isaiah’s words were directed to Israel’s lack of light.  The people were guilty of terrible covenant unfaithfulness.  They were harsh toward the weak and the lost.  They were guilty of “oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech.”  Isaiah urged them to bestow “bread on the hungry” and to satisfy “the afflicted.”  When they lived this life of love of neighbor, God promised that “light shall rise for you in darkness and the gloom shall become for you llike midday.”

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, to do good for others is to shed Your light in the world.  Give me eyes to see how I can do that today.

Psalm (Read Ps 112:4-9)

This is a beautiful psalm that describes the life of justice to which God’s covenants, both Old and New, have always called His people.  Believers are to be “gracious and merciful and just.”  The just man is a blessing to others (“lavishly gives to the poor”), and he experiences the peace and steadfastness for which all men yearn (“his heart is firm, trusting the Lord … he shall not fear”).  Our antiphon enables us to sing the praise of the just man, echoing Jesus’ desires for His followers in our Gospel:  “The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again carefully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 2:1-5)

St. Paul, in writing to his convert friends in Corinth, describes how he visited them not “with sublimity of words or of wisdom … I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.”  He is reminding them that their conversion to Christ was not a result of his excellence as an orator or philosopher.  In simple terms, he preached “nothing … except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  Consequently, their faith in Jesus was a “demonstration of Spirit and power,” resting “not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

So, what do we see here?  St. Paul becomes for us an example of what Jesus urged on His followers in the Gospel.  Although he did not feel personally equipped for the work of an evangelist, he nevertheless obeyed his vocation to visit the Corinthians, who lived in the darkness of pagan idolatry, and be salt and light for them.  These verses help us see how the blessing of faith in Christ is meant to transform us so that no matter how ill-equipped we may feel to do the work He’s given us to do, we are willing to step out in faith and serve.

Thank you, St. Paul.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, strengthen me through this example of willingness to obey Your call to bless others, even when feeling inadequate.

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