The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time||Febraury 6, 2005|
We just received a very extraordinary compliment from Jesus today. "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world." That's an extraordinary thing for Jesus to say to us especially when we remember he is the one who is called the light of the world. Now he's saying that is who we are, the light of the world. It's definitely a compliment. Jesus is saying we are like him. We are to take his place.
And of course it's also a challenge to be salt and light for the world. To be salt means to preserve something good and wholesome, and to be light means to drive away the darkness and enable people to live in openness and joy.
Remember a few Sundays ago, the second Sunday of ordinary time, we heard about Jesus being baptized and the spirit of God coming upon him and God said, "You are my chosen one, the one in whom I'm well pleased." That comes from the 42nd chapter of Isaiah. That passage goes on to say, "You are a light for the nation." So Jesus was anointed by God to be the light for all the nations of the world. Jesus understood his mission as transforming and enlightening the world. To make the world a good and wholesome place, to transform it into the reign of God, he started to gather disciples. Peter, Andrew, James, John and other disciples began to follow him.
Then last Sunday in Matthew's Gospel we heard that Jesus was going about preaching and healing. Then Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount. He went up on a hillside and proclaimed a new message, a message that was revolutionary: "Blessed are the poor." That's not the message we hear from the world. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers." Blessed are the gentle, the forgiving, the loving. Jesus proclaimed a whole new kind of value system.
Now today's Gospel, which continues the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the Earth." It is easy to understand where Jesus draws those images from, especially "light of the earth." If we read the whole passage from the 58th chapter of Isaiah, where we got today's first reading, it becomes even clearer. As I mentioned before, Isaiah was confronting a situation where the people were complaining: We've been fasting. We've been doing penance. We've been wearing sack cloth and putting ashes on our heads, and so on. And God hasn't restored the kingdom.
They had just come back from exile and they where going through this penitential time, but God asked, "Is that the kind of fast that pleases me? No. Here's what real fasting is." It's a powerful, powerful passage if you listen to what God is saying. Real fasting is breaking the fetters of injustice, unfastening the yoke, setting the oppressed free, breaking every yoke. You fast by sharing your bread with the hungry, by bringing to your house the homeless. You clothe the one you see to be naked. You do not turn away from your own kin. "Then," Isaiah said, "will your light shine like the dawn and your wounds be quickly healed over."
Jesus drew on Isaiah when he said you are to be the light of the world by working for justice, breaking the unjust fetters, all the structures of injustice in our world that keep people, the majority of the people on the planet, living in destitution and need. Do you know that 40,000 children die every day from hunger? It is unjust. It is evil. It is wrong. If you're going to be light, then you have to work to change that. It's very obvious, really, but it requires determination and persistence on our part to keep on trying -- sharing what we have in abundance, making sure that, in so far as we can, that nobody is hungry.
As I mentioned before, we're going to take up a collection next week for the victims of the tsunami. Be very generous. That could be a way of sharing your bread with the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. Or you could do it here in our own neighborhood. There are all kinds of opportunities if we really want to let our light break forth like the dawn.
Sharing from our abundance is the first way that Jesus calls us to be light to the nations. The other way to be light, which I think is especially important as we reflect on the times in which we live, Jesus talked about right after the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, "I have not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them." Jesus moved beyond what was in the law and the prophets.
I'm sure you remember these words, "You've heard it was said of old, 'Thou shalt not kill.' I say to you, do not even be angry with your brother or sister or hold vengeance in your heart." What Jesus wants of his disciple is so clear: be a reconciling person, a forgiving person. Jesus said that if you are going to the altar to offer your gift and worship God and you remember that someone has something against you or you have something against another go first and be reconciled.
See nothing is more important than reconciliation and forgiveness among ourselves. It's hard sometimes not to hold a grudge and not to feel angry and not to want to get even with someone who has hurt us in some way. But Jesus said, "That cannot be." He goes on -- even more dramatically -- "You have heard it was said of old, 'Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.' I say to you love your enemy." That was revolutionary. Love your enemy! Imagine! Love you enemy. Do good to the one who hurt you. That's not what you hear from the world around us.
Paul was talking about that this morning. In the second lesson, he said that what he had come to do was to preach Christ, a crucified Christ. "That's the power", he said, "of my message." Preaching a crucified Christ. We have to get the full meaning of that. Paul was saying, I'm preaching someone who was willing to let himself be tortured, even killed rather than to torture or to kill another. That is who Jesus is. It is the greatest act of love that we see manifest anywhere at any time when Jesus is nailed to the cross, being executed, but he still reaches out in forgiveness and love. That is the whole message of Jesus, which lead Paul to say, "I am preaching a crucified Christ." We have to let that really sink in. We can never retaliate; we can never use violence, not if we're going to follow Jesus. That is so very different then what our world tells us.
Perhaps you heard this week about one of our generals who had been in Iraq. He was back here in the States speaking in California, San Diego. Here's what he said: "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know it's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot people. I'll be right up front with you. I like brawling." What has happened to a person who can say it's fun to shoot someone? That person has been dehumanized!
People were upset because of what he said, but then one of his superiors responded, "Well, I understand some people may take issue with the comments made by him but I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war." In other words you have to learn to hate in order to kill.
That's what war is about. But that's totally against Jesus. And yet we keep on paying for war, again and again. Later this week, President Bush is going to submit his new budget. The one item that's gone up again is military expenditures. He's pledged that all discretionary funding -- that would be for education, for social services and so on -- these will be cut but military expenditures will go up, because we're committed to war and to killing even though it goes totally against Jesus.
Go back to the beginning of our reflection today and remember Jesus saying, "You are the light of the world, the salt of the earth." That is a beautiful compliment, as I said, but it is also a challenge. Can we really be the salt and light that Jesus is asking us to be? How do we respond to his invitation to be his disciples, to follow him, to help transform our world?
We have the season of Lent coming up. We can use these six weeks for prayer and reflection and maybe extra quiet time each day. We can do some penance, give alms, that sort of thing. If we really enter into the season of Lent, perhaps by the end, we'll be closer to what Jesus calls us to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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