Isaiah 58: 7-10; Psalm 112; I Corinthians 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Some people claim they have a hard time interpreting the Bible, especially the Hebrew texts. They mention all those difficult-to-pronounce names and places and the ancient and strange customs of the biblical characters. Well, it does not take a biblical scholar to interpret and apply the teachings in today’s Isaiah reading.

The former exiles have returned from their Babylonian captivity and have the task of rebuilding their ruined homeland; especially their capital Jerusalem and their beloved Temple, the focus of their faith and cultic life. With the prospects of the restoration one would expect Isaiah to emphasize the importance of observing proper cultic practices. Instead, the prophet puts first things first.

Previously, Isaiah criticized the people for their empty rituals, warning them that their acts of worship had to be accompanied by good deeds towards the neediest. "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit your workers….Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter...?" (58: 3b, 6-7)

Today’s text continues Isaiah’s message and our opening verse sums it up, "Thus says the Lord; share your bread with the hungry…." The prophet claims God’s very voice to emphasize his message, "Thus says the Lord…." It is not just the prophet’s preference, but God’s heart and concern are for society’s neediest.

It is the "God of the Old Testament" speaking out to us today. And, in Jesus’ preaching, it’s the same message from the "God of the New Testament." Yes, one-and-the-same God, with the same passionate concern. If we want to practice our faith in all its integrity we must care for the least. If we do so, Isaiah says, "Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed...." Healing comes for those who turn their eyes to the needy and help them in their dire straits.

Is it possible that the wounds we carry come as a result of our selfish concerns for our own desires and our blindness to the needy around us? Is it also possible that a gashing wound in our country and society comes from our emphasis on our own prosperity, while we ignore the poorest in our midst and our world who lack proper healthcare, nutrition, education and work safety?

Today’s gospel picks up on Isaiah’s message, as Jesus proclaims to his followers "You are the light of the world." It is still early in Matthew’s Gospel and his disciples are very much in their neophyte stage. Jesus is spelling out what will be their distinguishing marks in the world. Because of how they live and reach out to others, especially the least, they will be "salt of the earth," and "light of the world."

Let us pick up from where Isaiah brought us: God’s presence will be known among the true believers of Israel because of their expansive compassion. As a result, they shall be shining lights in an otherwise dark world of greed, indifference, hatred and violence. So too, for the observant followers of Jesus: each and every one of us, blessed with Jesus’Spirit, will be a light in the world. Thus, Jesus, following the tradition of the Jewish prophets, announces those who do God’s will and care for the least, as "lights of the world."

Today’s gospel passage is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. The "you" Jesus is addressing are his disciples. He is not speaking to the general crowds, but to those, whom he has said, will suffer persecution because they are his followers. Still, they are to be "light of the world." How will that light shine out? Being "light for the world" is not a slogan we wear on T-shirts and the backs of our jackets. It is not a title of status, or just words in a hymn, but a call to light the world with extraordinary acts of compassion and love for neighbor – and for Jesus, "neighbor" includes even our enemies. If those characterize our lives, then people will know us as Jesus’ disciples, "salt of the earth, light of the world."

We come to church each week not always glowing as "lights of the world." That is why we begin our Eucharist with a triple plea for forgiveness, for the ways in which we have added to the dark by: withholding forgiveness, and compassion to those in obvious need; adding to the divisions in our church; being indifferent towards the stranger and newcomers in our midst; accentuating the differences among us of race, gender, orientation, religion and political preferences; not speaking out about the sanctity of human life; wasting the precious gifts God had given us in nature. So, as we began our worship today, we had plenty of reason to pray our triple plea for forgiveness, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy."

After we received forgiveness, we listened to the proclaimed Word. Today we hear a unified message from our Jewish ancestors and Jesus; our lives are to be light in the dark world of the neediest among us. That’s the challenging Word today and to help us live that way we come hungry to receive the very One who was "salt of the earth and light of the world." We eat and drink so we can fulfill our calling the way Jesus did his.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: