9th February. Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Theme: Salt and Light
Tyranny and oppression still flourish in many places abroad; and in less spectacular fashion closer to home. Unfairness and structural abuse often stare us in the face, such as long-term poverty, unemployment and homelessness. Christ invites us to solidarity with people in dire need. How seriously do we take his challenge to be Salt of the earth and shine some Light in our world?
1st Reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
(To be upright in God’s sight we must somehow learn to share our good fortune with the poor.)
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
(Paul says that we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, and not by our own efforts or learning.)
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16
(Salt of the earth; the light of the world – the example of Christians helps our unbeliving world.)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Letting the light shine
In India when two people meet, instead of shaking hands as we do in the West, they have a graceful custom of joining their hands, as if in prayer, and bowing towards each other, a gesture which appears so meaningful and full of respect. Perhaps the best way to counter the sign of the clenched fist, mentioned today by Isaiah, is with the sign of the joined hands, which denotes generosity and respect, and one might even say readiness to pray for others. If you allow your life to be moulded by such attitudes, then indeed “your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like the noonday.” The gospel is even more emphatic when it says, “Your light must shine before others, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.”
There might seem, however, to be a contradiction between this saying about “letting your light shine,” and the fact that Christ spent all his own life–with the exception of three years–in the obscurity of the remote village of Nazareth, and that seemingly with little effect, for the inhabitants refused obstinately to see him as anything other than the carpenter, the son of Mary. So much so, as St Mark tells us, that Jesus himself was amazed at their incredulity. “He could work no miracle there because of their lack of faith,” (Mk 6:5f). How consistent is Jesus, if he cautions me not to hide my light under a tub, while all that time at Nazareth he seemed to act like the man in his own parable, who received but one talent and was condemned for not putting it to good use. The message of his quiet life in Nazareth is not easy to unravel. What Jesus was called upon to practise at Nazareth was the heroism of the ordinary, the daily, often dull, routine, which requires its own kind of courage. Nazareth then was the scene of a hidden life, the ordinary everyday life of a family, made up of work and prayer, marked only by hidden virtues, and only God and Christ’s closest relatives and neighbours were witnesses to any of it. Here in fact we have mirrored the lives of the majority of us. What sets Jesus apart from the rest of us is that he possessed the one basic talent, beside which all others are worthless. This was his ability to remain in God, to anchor his whole life firmly in the Father, to let the Father be the guiding force in his life. In his own words, “The Son can do only what he sees the Father doing, and whatever the Father does the Son does too” (Jn 5:19). But this close relationship with God is not something we can earn, or plan for ourselves. It is God’s miracle, God’s doing. It is like the man in the parable, who scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps or when he is awake, the seed is germinating, sprouting, growing. But how, he does not know. Concealment, we might even say, is the way God’s glory is revealed in the world. So for the people of Nazareth, Jesus would remain just “the carpenter;” while it was only through the mystery of the resurrection that the light of Christ’s true identity was revealed to his chosen disciples. So it was too with many of the great saints, who never tried to create an impression of holiness, but strove inwardly to remain always close to God, “in loving attentive expectancy,” as St John of the Cross said. These words could admirably describe the short life of another great Carmelite saint. Therese of the Child Jesus died at the age of 24, after nine years in her Convent at Lisieux.
Very few people took notice. According to her natural sister, Pauline, several of the other nuns even said that Teresa had been doing nothing, had come to Carmel seemingly to amuse herself. Yet in the following twenty years this community sent out over 750,000 copies of her Abridged Life, and 250,000 copies of The Story of a Soul, the account of her life written under obedience by Teresa herself. Within less than thirty years she had been canonised a saint in Rome before 50,000 people in St Peter’s Basilica and an estimated half million in the Square outside. Two years later little Teresa Martin who had never once left her convent was proclaimed Patroness of the Foreign Missions. How did this come about? Reflecting on St Paul’s assertion that there are three virtues which endure, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love, Teresa saw her mission in life. “In the heart of my mother, the Church,” she said, “I shall be love.” And in the concealment of her convent God’s glory was to be revealed in a special way before the whole world.