Feb 5, 2011

5th Sunday: Jesus' double "You are . . . "

"You are the salt of the earth . . ."

Year A

Is 58: 7-10
1 Cor 2: 1-5
Mt 5: 13-16

Our late Holy Father Pope Paul VI, offered an intriguing comment: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." Jesus’ words in the Gospel this Sunday might offer us some further insight.

Our Lord states, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt looses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? . . . You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden . . .” (Mt 5: 13 – 14). This original metaphor of salt and light is not a recommendation for ancient matzoh but a familiar comparison that has challenged us before. It is what Jesus’ desires his disciples to be like. In the same vein we may imagine a witness and a teacher in somewhat the same manner.

At first impression, we see a teacher in a classroom who stands before students both young and young adult. They may lecture with enthusiasm and creativity before a rapt audience. Yet we all remember teachers who were much less convincing with their subject. How does one make mathematics exciting? Frankly, it never was for me. Some day I’ll mention my high school chemistry teacher – Oh dear!

History, on the other hand, can either inspire or be a dry collection of dates, names and places. The search for truth and research can lead one to explore the historical facts more deeply as we might study social trends and comparisons to similar historical events. We can learn from events of the past or simply memorize names. It can either be salt that gives flavor and zest – or it can be flat and useless.

We might simply read history as an exercise in memorization to score an A in the classroom or learn to reflect on its lessons for our own day. Which approach do you find more appealing? If a teacher taught in a manner that made history come alive, he/she could be a credible witness to its movements and lessons. Maybe they lived through a period in history which they communicate in a way which brings you back to that moment in time. Now there is salty salt and a shimmering light! It seems that Jesus is calling us to listen and act in a meaningful way.

Our Lord was the consummate teacher. In his divine knowledge he offers us an understanding of human nature that moves us to stop and think about his twice, “You are . . . You are . . .”

"You are the light of the world . . ."

The words of our first reading call us to, “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them . . .” (Is 58: 7-8). If I take time to consider the needs of others over my own, I may find it to be often a slow process. I need to put aside my wants and wait on the time of another. I can’t rush the process because the one whom I address is likely on a different schedule.

Yet, when we are offered a smile, an unexpected phone call, a personal visit when sick or out of luck, or a generous gift, don’t we remember such people with gratitude? Aren’t we moved to do the same for another? They have taught us by example – by the witness of their lives and not just paid lip service. Lest I stretch the metaphor further, they have sprinkled us with the tasty salt of generosity, love, compassion, and faith. As a Christian such compassionate acts are offered after the example of Christ – teacher and witness. We are his witnesses to peace and justice in the world.

Jesus calls us, then, to give flavor and zest to the Gospel and to shine brightly in order that others may do the same. Like a city set on a hill or salt as a preservative, the very witness of our lives speaks loud and clear that there is a better way to live and there are more meaningful values to hold than the shallowness we often find in such areas as cosmetics, the fashion world, the pursuit of fortune simply for the sake of being rich and powerful.

Faith does matter and so must we. Think Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, the saints and in particular the martyrs of our faith. There may well be members of your own family who you wish to emulate. Because of their witness and holiness we are here today. The witness of their lives has preserved the faith like salt preserves food.

Our gathering for prayer and worship each week around the Lord’s table and his Eucharist is a tasty and satisfying meal which is anything but bland. Yet, what sort of flavor do I bring to the celebration? Has my faith grown flat, static, and lifeless? Does it really matter to me that I am Catholic? Am I just going through the motions yet find myself unmotivated to do more than just get by or show up?