FEBRUARY 5TH, 2017: FIFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and 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 from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of Spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father."
Long before 1624, when John Donne penned the famous line “No man is an island,” our sacred authors were convinced of the truth of that statement. They believed each of our lives inevitably affects the lives – for good or bad – of the people around us.
This certainly is true of the Hebrew prophets. Once we eradicate the false idea that they were mainly concerned with predicting the coming of Jesus and concentrate on their actual messages, their emphasis on creating life-giving relationships becomes embarrassingly evident. Today’s Third-Isaiah pericope provides us with a classic example.
Though this particular prophet is deeply committed to convincing the recently freed Babylonian captives to return to the Promised Land and rebuild Jerusalem, he never lets his people forget what they should be doing in the meantime. Whether they’re living in one of the Babylonian suburbs or in downtown Jerusalem, they’re to “share their bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked . . . and not turn their backs on their own.” In other words, their lives should make a positive difference in other peoples’ lives.
One of the most interesting facets of this unnamed prophet’s theology is his belief that many of our personal problems would disappear if we were more concerned with helping others get rid of their problems. “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;” he proclaims, “if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Today’s gospel passages carry more of an impact when we remember that Matthew positions it at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount – immediately after the Beatitudes. He’s obviously concerned that his readers appreciate not only how the unique behavior which Jesus demands of them will change their lives, but will also change the lives of those who aren’t his followers. “You are the salt of the earth . . . a city set on a mountain,” Matthew’s Jesus reminds his followers. “No one lights a lamp, then puts it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others . . . .”
We who follow Jesus are responsible for letting others see that “it can be done:” that people can actually imitate Jesus in their daily lives. If we don’t carry through on the morality he taught and lived, his ideals remain just pie in the sky, something no one would ever dare integrate into how they lived their lives.
After reading the Sermon on the Mount, we might beg off carrying it out because we’re either not strong enough to follow through on how Jesus expects us to relate to others, or we’re too weak to put up with the static which will come our way if we actually try to do so. But in either case, Paul beats us to the punch.
In some sense, the Apostle tells his Corinthian community that if he can do it, anyone can do it. He certainly didn’t talk any one of them into becoming a Christian. He didn’t have the ability to do so. He could zero in on Jesus’ weakness by simply pointing to his own weakness. The only way he was able to make Jesus’ morality his morality was to totally give himself over to the risen Jesus, and let him/her work through him.
Perhaps one of the most important lines in Scripture is Paul’s admission that living his faith doesn’t depend on his own power, but on the “power of God” working through him.