February 5, 2017 — Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last week on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time we heard Jesus’ formula and patterns for being a good disciple of His with his presentation of the Beatitudes. Today’s Gospel is also drawn from Matthew 5 and it, too, offers suggestions as to what we must do to be His follower, how we need to live out our Christian commitment and vocation.
The First Reading from Isaiah really could serve as an introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we heard last week. Isaiah opens with this statement: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn’.” The reference to light at the end is particularly important as it connects directly with our Gospel Reading today.
In the Church we speak of sins of omission and sins of commission. Sins of omission, of course, are failing to do what we should do. Isaiah (and the Lord for that matter) would say that failing to feed the hungry and failing to shelter the oppressed are sins of omission, something we should do but may not. Sins of commission on the other hand describe things we did but should not have. We have often stated what stewardship means, which means doing something that reflects our values and our understanding of giftedness and gratitude. However, we must also take care not to do some things. We may tend to think more in terms of our sins of commission, things we have done which are not proper, but sins of omission can be equally immoral.
We probably think of St. Paul as a man of strength and convictions and total dedication to what he was doing. However, in today’s Second Reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, he reveals weaknesses and failures on his part. He says, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom.” His point is that his strength and his confidence and his wisdom are all based upon Jesus Christ, on nothing he is and nothing he has done. That is at the base of what stewardship is, our acceptance that what we are and what we can accomplish are due completely to the Lord.
Paul’s total faith was dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Paul knew that and embraced that reality. Many of us are what we call self-reliant. Without recognizing our need for the power of the Holy Spirit we fail to be the disciple to which Jesus has called us. Those who are reliant upon the wisdom of humans rather than the wisdom of God are most likely doomed to failure. There is a popular saying in today’s culture that goes something like this, “As for me and my household we serve the Lord.” That would fit with Paul’s message in today’s reading. He implies that if we are drawn to the Lord by the wisdom of others, we can also be drawn away from the Lord by the wisdom of others. We need to seek and follow the Wisdom of God.
The Gospel from St. Matthew emphasizes how we need to be like salt and light. Those are references directly from Jesus. When Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth,” He is telling us that just as salt gives flavor to things, we, too, as disciples can do something similar. Salt serves many purposes. The one we probably think of most often is that it flavors things, but it also preserves. Salt has been used for centuries to preserve food, especially meat. Salt is an antidote for decay. Salt is essential for life in this world, just as faith in Christ is essential in the next.
Finally, Jesus reminds us that we are to be the Light of the World reflecting His Light. The purpose of light is to illuminate and expose things. If it is “hidden under a basket,” it has no use at all. We must seek ways to let our light shine brighter. Jesus never tells us that we must “become” salt or light. He tells us that we are those things. Are we fulfilling that responsibility? That is our challenge, and our call.