5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

02-05-2023Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

In this weekend’s Gospel, we discover a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. The great Beatitudes “sermon” focuses on the inner qualities or dispositions of all people. The Gospel this weekend focuses clearly upon those who are followers of Jesus Christ. This means it is focused on us. This talk of salt and light is a talk about us being salt and light. Both these images have been commonly used through the centuries and cultures to describe good and decent people. Someone who is consistently good to others is often called “the salt of the earth”, Often, when a good person dies, it is often said that there is a little less “light in our world.”

Human beings need certain elements to survive or thrive in the world. The first two are clearly air and water. We also need light and fairly close on the list is salt. We are always in need of light because light allows us to see into the darkness and find our way. Historically we have needed salt to preserve food so that we can have sustenance when fresh food is not available. Salt and light are basic to human existence. Simply put: without light, human life is impossible and also without salt, the food that sustains us goes bad.

We also realize that by living our lives to be light or salt for other people is a great and often difficult challenge for us. Our second reading has Paul standing as a shining light in the Aeropagus in Athens. Paul is shining a light on the Resurrection of Jesus and the Athenians tell him to go away and come back some other day. Paul, however, continued to be the light shining in the darkness to the Athenians. It is not easy to be rejected in public and told to disappear.

In truth we are not called to be dramatic people preaching in the city center or town common, we are to be “salt” and “light” by how we live our life each day. Our first reading helps us to understand this truth. The Jews have returned from their painful exile in Babylon and have now set about rebuilding Jerusalem and its Temple. Things have changed. Strangers now are in their old places and also customs and culture in Jerusalem have changed because of these new people. The faith in Jerusalem has been altered by these foreign people and the returning Jews are appalled. The returning people from the exile also have a special sense that they can have new ways of being faithful. God was with them in their exile and God is with them now. They began to build synagogues, places of prayer and study which replace the great temple. They slowly became aware that God has willed salvation for all people and this reality slowly starts to come into focus for them.

We also learn in this reading that God is not attentive to those who only live a life of rigidity with self-righteous and hollow sacrifices; God is attentive to the compassionate and kind person. Indeed the compassionate acts found in Isaiah are seen time and time again in the public ministry of Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew near the end of the public ministry of Jesus, we find a list of the acts of mercy that Isaiah had spoken about.

Our Gospel today asks us to question how we can be “salt and light.” We actually need to think about how to get the salt right and also the light right. Our role through works of compassionate and mercy is to focus not on ourselves, but on the Lord Jesus.