05Feb 05 Feb, 2017. 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

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

We are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, 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 unbelieving world

Jesus said to his disciples:

“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 lamp-stand, 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.”


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See Kieran O’Mahony’s exegetical notes on today’s readings.

Out to the margins

(José Antonio Pagola)

Using two bold and surprising images, Jesus lets us know what he thinks of and expects from his followers. They don’t need to be always thinking about their own interests, their own prestige, their own power. Even though they are a small group in the midst of the huge Roman Empire, they need to be the «salt» and the «light» that the world needs.

«You are the salt of the world». The simple people of Galilee spontaneously catch on to Jesus’ language. Everyone knows what salt is good for: above all giving food flavor and conserving it from spoiling. In the same way, Jesus’ disciples need to contribute to helping people savor life without ending up spoiled.

«You are the light of the world». Without the sun’s light, the world stays dark and we can’t find our way or enjoy life in the midst of darkness. Jesus’ disciples can carry the light that we need to find our way, to probe the deepest meaning of life, to walk with hope.

These metaphors have in common something quite vital. If it stays isolated in a shaker, salt doesn’t do anything. Only when it enters into contact with food and dissolves in the food can it give flavor to what we eat. The same thing happens with light. If it stays closed up and hidden away, it can’t enlighten anyone. Only when it is in the middle of the dark can it illuminate and guide. A Church isolated from the world can be neither salt nor light.

Pops Francis has seen that the Church today lives closed in on herself, paralyzed by fear, and all too distant from problems and sufferings, thus keeping it from giving flavor to modern life and from offering the true light of the Gospel. The Pope’s response has been immediate: «We need to go out to the fringes».

Francis insists over and over: «I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures».

The Pope’s call is directed to all Christians: «We can’t calmly stay inside our churches with passive hope». «The Gospels always invite us to run the risk of meeting face to face with the other». He wants to introduce into the Church the « culture of encounter», convinced that what our Church needs today is the capacity to heal wounds and to warm hearts.

Shining a light

In India when two people meet, instead of shaking hands they have a graceful custom of joining their hands and bowing towards each other, a gesture very meaningful and full of respect. A good way to counter the sign of the clenched fist, mentioned today by Isaiah, is with the sign of the joined hands, denoting generosity and respect, and one might even say readiness to pray with and for others. If we allow our life to be moulded by such attitudes, then indeed our light “will rise in the darkness.” The Lord is even more emphatic when he says, “Your light must shine before others, so that seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.”

There’s an apparent contradiction between this saying about “letting your light shine,” and the fact that Jesus spent most of his own short life in the obscurity of the remote village of Nazareth, and with such little effect that the inhabitants blankly refused to see him as anything other than the carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary. St Mark adds that Jesus himself was amazed at their incredulity; and that he could work no miracle there because of their lack of faith, (Mk 6:5f). How consistent is Jesus, if he tells me not to hide my light under a tub, while he lived so quietly in Nazareth. The message of his quiet life in Nazareth is not easy to unravel. What Jesus lived before his public ministry began was the heroism of the ordinary, often dull, routine, which requires its own kind of courage. His home life in Nazareth then was made up of work and prayer, and only his nearest neighbours witnessed any of it.

What sets Jesus apart from the rest of us was one great gift, 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 Providence 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 intimate relationship with God is not something we can earn by diligence alone. It is God’s miracle, God’s doing. It is like the seed in the parable, that the farmer scatters on his field. Night and day, whether he sleeps or wakes, the seed is germinating, sprouting, growing.

Concealment, one might even say, how way God’s glory is revealed in the world. So for the people of Nazareth, Jesus would remain only the carpenter’s son; and it was only through the the resurrection that his true identity was revealed to his chosen disciples. So it was with many of the great saints, who strove to remain always close to God, in “loving, attentive expectancy,” as St John of the Cross put it.

This phrase also describes the spirituality of another great Carmelite saint, Therese of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24, after just 9 years in the convent. Very few people knew of her existence. According to her sister, Pauline, several of the other nuns even thought that Therese had come to Carmel seemingly to amuse herself. Yet within less than thirty years she had been canonised a saint. Two years later little Therese Martin who had never left her convent was proclaimed Patroness of the Foreign Missions. How did this come about? Impressed by St Paul’s assertion that there are three virtues which endure (faith, hope and love)… and the greatest of these is love, Therese saw her mission in life. “In the heart of the Church,” she said, “I shall be love.” And from her quiet life in her convent, God’s glory was to be revealed in a special way to the world.

Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

Agatha (231- 251), born in Catania, Sicily, had firmly opted for a life of virginity when she rejected the amorous advances of the prefect Quintianus. In reprisal, he had her arrested and condemned for her Christian faith. She was martyred c. 251 a.D.

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