Isaiah 58: 7-10 I Corinthians 21: 1-5 Matthew 5: 13-16
Let me ask you an honest question? Did you grow up, particularly if you were Catholic, studying the Sermon on the Mount? I can’t say that it was especially pertinent in my religious training. The Beatitudes always sounded poetic, an ideal if not real. The best part of the Sermon to remember was the golden rule, “Do unto others what you would have done unto to you.” Or, the negative version, Don’t do to others…” But how about the rest of the sermon, like “pray for your enemies; do good to those who persecute you… forgive as you have been forgiven.” Mahatma Ghandi was very influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. He looked to it as a basis of his non-violent resistance to colonial oppression. Martin Luther King did the same.
Last Sunday we started a five week reading of the Sermon on the Mount in the fifth to seventh chapters of Matthew’s gospel. Last week we heard the Beatitudes, Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God that he preached. Today Jesus challenges us to live these beatitudes, “Be the light of the world; be the salt of the earth.”
What do I do with that? Be the light of the world. Who, me? It is clear that Jesus is building on the words of Isaiah which we have heard today. “Loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free. Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, cover them… Then your light shall break forth like the dawn… If you satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness.”
But what if we don’t even know we are in the dark? That life is stale and tasteless? I think this is possible. Just as having cataract surgery removes a veil of darkness and shadow and leads to an appreciation of new light, of color.
We can be in darkness when we are blind to what is happening in our private lives and families, or in our church, or in our country. We can have spiritual cataracts such as ignorance, denial, addictions, prejudice, apathy or indifference. We can settle for life in a survival mode, enjoying our little world and not seeing what is beyond us. We can be content with our limited state of awareness and feel entitled to what we have and own and possess, no matter how our lives intersect with others in our family, our community, our world. Thanks be to God that today we can witness so many people waking up and being challenged in their lethargy and comfort zone.
It is not enough to be concerned with my own salvation, my own getting to heaven. Jesus’s teachings are about how we live in this world, here and now.
Our light shines when we accept the love and challenge of Jesus to know him better and be a true disciple of his ways. Being religious is not about feeling good but doing good. It is about developing a deep and intimate relationship with God so we trust the divine power that is within us to confront the real issues of life.
Consider our public life. We are taken with poll-tested talking points and crowd-pleasing sound bites. We witness schoolyard taunts and adolescent insults. Many commentators are calling our political discourse coarse, vulgar, and rude to a degree unmatched in recent memory.
The darkness we are encountering is what John of the Cross called a dark night, a metaphor for a period of profound unraveling, intense disorientation, and deep crisis. When all that we turn to for security, identity and meaning is severely challenged, if not ripped away, we feel naked vulnerable and lost. Yet John of the Cross insists that such distress is the result of a new experience of God’s presence in our lives. In a paradoxical way, this disturbing turbulence comes from the advent of God, who shatters all our previous limited images of God. The darkness around us becomes the mirror that shows us everything we have avoided seeing. God’s love is subversive and destructive; it exposes self-serving political ideologies as shortsighted and corrosive.
And God leads us to new life. We need to trust in the light of Christ which we all have within us. We have to let his light shine in our world; let his teachings be the salt for our earth.
This is a time that demands a greater faith, a deeper hope, a more intense love to overcome hatred, anger and indifference. We cannot do this alone. We need our faith in God, a prayer that is contemplative in nature to be at one with our God so we are not overcome by the powers around us. We need each other, we need a church that is alive. We need the scriptures and our tradition of social doctrines. We need encouragement of others to speak up, to act, to be light for the world and salt for the earth. The Sermon on the Mount is not an instruction book for life in another world. It is the vision for life here and now. Jesus tells us that all life is sacred, that there is nothing that is purely secular. We live in a graced world and are surrounded with God’s life. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God and day unto day makes known God’s message.” (Psalm 18)
Here is a poem from Hafiz, the great Persian mystic:
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live with veracity
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time for you to compute the impossibility That there is anything But grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Fr. Timothy J. Joyce, OSB, STL