Gospel for the Fifth Sunday (February 9 2014)
Notes on the Gospel
“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 lampstand, 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.” (Matthew 5:13-16 – NRSV)
This text is part of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount – see 5:1 – 7:29. It follows immediately after the Beatitudes.
We find a similar use of the metaphor of salt in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34–35. However, neither Mark nor Luke use the metaphor of light as Matthew does. Matthew is calling to mind that beautiful text of Isaiah 2:2-5:
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
In Isaiah 42:6-7 we read:
“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
…. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
We could paraphrase this: Be who and what you are so that the One who made you will shine out of you!
This is a call to witness.
In his remarkable 1975 encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI speaks repeatedly of the importance of witness. For example, he says “to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way” (#26). And of course there is his memorable statement: "Modern people listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." (#41).
One of the most impressive characteristics of Pope Francis is his witness. He is what he says he is and it shines out of his simple actions. This man acts and speaks with authority because there is depth there. He is not play acting.
My favourite example of this witness is the image of Pope Francis, in the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention centre on Holy Thursday night last year, washing the feet of those young people detained there. Particularly powerful was the moment when he washed and kissed the feet of the young Muslim woman.
When the light is allowed to shine in genuine witness, not everyone will be pleased. See for example the reaction to this event of Pope Francis ' washing the young woman's feet by one Roman Catholic canon lawyer
Put most simply, Pope Francis is a witness. And the witness of what he does points to the deeper witness of who and what he is. There is great authority in this.
When Jesus says “let your light shine” it is not an invitation to show off, rather it is an invitation to be the person God made you to be.
Michael Whelan SM
"And so asking to realize the true self is much like facing a large field covered with snow that has not yet been walked on and asking, 'Where is the path?' The answer is to walk across it and there will be a path. One cannot find out first how to realize the true self and then set out to reach the clearly visualized goal. Rather, one must walk on in faith and as one goes on, the goal appears – not before, nor within, nor beyond us, but it does appear . . . and it appears to no-one. It appears no-where. It appears not in a revelation of a fact but a transformation of our hearts, in which, without knowing how, God transforms us into himself and we begin to realize obscurely yet deeply that our lives are hidden with Christ in God." [James Finley, Merton's Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self, Ave Maria Press, 1978, 117.]