Let Christ’s light shine through you

Originally Appeared in : Vol. 100 No. 03

As we read through Saint Matthew’s Gospel during Ordinary Time of this liturgical year (A), we encounter five great sermons preached by the Lord Jesus – one for each of the five books of Moses (the Torah or Pentateuch). Usually, on the Fourth Sunday of the Year (Ordinary Time), during Year A of the three-year Sunday Lectionary Cycle of Readings at Mass, we begin reading the first – and most famous – of these sermons, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), beginning with the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:5-12).

In the first four Beatitudes, the Lord Jesus sets out the qualities of those invited to the Kingdom of Heaven. These “congratulations” are completely contrary to what Christ’s hearers would have expected to hear. Instead of the usual “happy are the rich gifted,” we hear, “happy are the poor (in spirit)”; instead of “happy are those who rejoice,” we hear “happy are those who mourn” (“happy the sad”?!?); instead of “happy the mighty,” we hear “happy the meek (lowly)”; and instead of “happy are those who are filled with righteousness” – we find “happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” – because they do not have or experience righteousness or perfect justice in this life.

The “final four” Beatitudes then challenge us – immediately – to let his grace transform us into those who show mercy, people of integrity (purity of heart), those who make peace and those who accept the persecution that inevitably comes with being disciples of the Master Jesus Christ.

But on Feb. 2, 2020, the Fourth Sunday the Year was superseded by the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which takes precedence. When we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of the Year on Feb. 9, 2020, we will read from the next passage of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13-16), without having heard the eight Beatitudes, the “table of contents” for the rest of the Sermon of the Mount, in which, the Lord Jesus will develop each of these statements of “blessedness” or “happiness,” but in reverse order. Matthew 5:13-16 falls under the heading of the eighth Beatitude, “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

In this section, Jesus Christ addresses his hearers in terms that are both highly positive and highly challenging: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a bushel-basket; it is set on a lamp-stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Salt of the earth and light of the world – those who give flavor and vision to the rest. These words apply with special force to the martyrs, whose blood throughout the centuries has proved to be the “seed of Christians.” Nothing contributed more to the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity than the joyful witness of those about to be martyred, who went to their deaths singing Psalms because they knew that their deaths would lead to eternal life. They did not hide their light under any form of bushel basket.

I often wonder if many Christians have lost their taste and hidden their light under various bushel-baskets. I have said on more than one occasion that I wish I had the “Catholic bushel basket-concession.” If I did, I would be very rich – because we have been given so great a light, such a rich treasure, and yet are often shy about sharing that light and treasure with others.

Perhaps we hold back because we think that in order to let our light shine, to proclaim the Gospel, we would have to preach, to articulate the Good News in words – yet we’re terrified of public speaking. But words are not the only way and maybe not even the most effective way to share the light. The Church, by pairing this Gospel passage with the first reading, from Isaiah 58, suggests that we can let our light, Christ’s light, shine not so much by our words but by the way we treat others: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn… If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech, if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, then your light shall rise for you in the darkness and your gloom shall become for you like the midday.” Then will you – we – be light to the world and salt of the earth.

Father Douglas K. Clark is the retired pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.

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