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

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

WELCOME: to our latest email recipients, the women retreatants from Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, NC

I am struck this week by Joseph Donders’ take on our gospel passage. (See book recommendation below) The gospel images are very familiar to Christians, "You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world." What Christian isn’t familiar with them and has even asked themselves, "How am I salt and light of the world?" It is helpful to hear diverse interpretations of familiar biblical texts, lest by over-familiarity they become just lovely quotes posted at the entrances to chapels, but not realized in our daily living. So, a brief survey into Donders’ interpretation and application of these familiar passages may help us hear and act on them (cf. pages 19-20). "You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world." With Donders’ insights let’s look at these two images which describe how Christians are to live and interact with the world.

Salt is not at the top of the food chain – it doesn’t rank with other possible items Jesus could have chosen to guide our presence in the world. Why not, "You are the finest wine?" Or, "You are a chef’s scrumptious pastry?" Wouldn’t those make us feel special? Salt is such a poor item to use for our Christian calling. You can’t do anything significant with salt. In a world where people are starving of famine you can’t serve it for food. In drought, you can’t drink it. Salt can make land sterile, unable to produce. Was Jesus off the mark in this teaching to his disciples?

If we are like salt we have to get involved and we should be prepared to be mixed in the pot: not merely look on like spectators. We Christians do not have to stand out in the places and communities we find ourselves; nor do we have to be leaders of any group, or social project we belong to. On its own salt is not appetizing, it’s biting to the taste. If we do get mixed in with the other contents we will be lost in the blend, but we will contribute to adding flavor to food. It’s best when salt is mixed in with other ingredients. As Christians, we need to roll up our sleeves and get into the human mix where we can make a difference for the good.

Like salt, light is not useful on its own. Intense light can even be harmful to the naked eye. We are warned not to look too long at the sun without some kind of filter. But light is useful when it enables us to see things around us that we might miss, or that other people are missing. When we do see what the dark has been covering, Jesus calls us to bring those things into the awareness of the world. For example, guided by the light of the Gospels we can see the world’s injustices to whole communities of people; the plight of refugees and exiles; the degradation to the environment caused by our wasteful ways; the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the injustices done the poor in our prison system, etc. Formed by the light of the gospel teachings we become "the light of the world." If we are salt in the world and a shining light showing the way to others, then we will fulfill the vocation Jesus has given each of us.

It is said that the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is addressed to survivors (1:9). The Israelites had experienced defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. Now they are enslaved, awaiting for God to do what they can not do on their own, free them from their captivity. God had done it before for them against the Assyrians, so the defeated people have reason to hope. We become one with them because, like them, we must live in hope of what we do not yet see fulfilled and cannot accomplish on our own.

The book does not tell of the Babylonian defeat and the people’s deliverance from slavery. It ends with them still in captivity. With them we also are left with the hope that God will bring the deliverance God has promised. That promise was envisioned in the early pages of Isaiah (2:4): "He shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many nations. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." But apparently, not yet. And so they and we wait and hope. When life bears down on us, the future looks bleak and we see no way out of the current distress, can we accept Isaiah’s invitation to put our trust in the Lord?

In the meantime, as we wait, Isaiah invites us to live righteous lives, as people striving for a goal (58:6-14). He calls for our liturgical life and our whole lifestyle to show forth justice and righteousness. "Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked." It’s what God wants for all people and we are to be God’s instruments in achieving that vision.

It is not a matter of earning God’s pleasure with our good deeds. Rather, when we do justice and live in right relationships with others we are collaborators with God’s presence in the world. But when we act unjustly, we cut ourselves off from God. Isaiah promises that even though the people live in awful straits, when they act in ways that reflect God’s rule and presence in the world, they are ready to receive God: "Then you shall call and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help and God will say, ‘Here I am.’"

Part of Psalm 112 has been chosen as our response to today’s Isaiah text. It assures us that those who accept and live by God’s rule will be gracious and merciful. They will be like God. Jesus has taught similarly. When the just feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and care for the least of our sisters and brothers, they will experience the presence of God in Christ with us (Mt 25:31-46).

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