Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Is. 58:7-10; I Cor. 2: 1-5; Mt. 5: 13-16
We are in the throes of the process of candidates seeking nominations to party offices. Through advertising, campaign stops, and debates they are trying to convince others that they are the most qualified. But anytime you go looking for a new job, they ask you what your qualifications are. Employers want to know if you have the training, the experience, and the skills to handle the challenges that this position will provide. In chapter two of his Rule, St. Benedict comments on the qualities of an abbot. Newcomers must have certain qualities: truly seeking God, a zeal for obedience, the office and opprobrium. Even the reader in the refectory must be qualified, not just anyone who picks up the book. Qualifications are a mysterious combination of inner capacities and the ability to manifest them in varying external situations.
Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world. For a moment, we can feel the warmth of the compliment. But is that a description which applies to us? Do we have those qualifications? The qualities of salt and light in this context imply universal scope (the world, the earth); they are indispensable change agents; they make a unique difference and have a redemptive role. We are wary of stepping into shoes too large for us or getting in over our heads. Maybe we should just let the bishops, the theologians, the professionals fill these bills. We have grown out of the calls to follow your bliss, be all that you can be, and soar like Jonathan Livingston Seagull (for those of you whose memories reach back to the 1970’s). We may still have a few scars from believing the ambitions of an inflated ego.
We usually adjust our sights to goals for which we feel realistically qualified. Better to get the affirmation of doing little but doing it remarkably well. We are persuaded by the wisdom of this world and have learned to speak reasonably if not always eloquently. We know the Koine, the common language, the common culture, and are content with that. We must be doing our best because we are always so busy. We don’t even stop long enough to sense the anxiety and uncertainty that fires the boiling pots of our lives. We prefer to be admired for our successes rather than to be known and loved in our weakness and failures. Our whole effort is to distance ourselves from the wounds within and that cry out to be healed and not ignored. Then your light shall shine forth and your wound be quickly healed. The light we would share with others inconveniently sheds light on those dark corners of our own soul. We have this strange capacity (quality?) of being able to turn our back on ourselves. We don’t touch that inner ground of the wound that needs to be healed. We turn our backs on ourselves, on others, and on Christ. Do not turn your back on your own. In our last retreat, Bishop Flores said that we need to look at the crucified Christ to really know ourselves. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. There is no eloquence, no veil of worldly wisdom, no rationalization, no pretense. Just the naked mutual presence that is deepened and fed by honesty and trust. In this presence, the world of oppression, false accusation and malicious speech become powerless. There is a new source for generating light in the world.
Our real qualification for being salt and light in the world is simply the word we hear from Christ. YOU ARE. It is an example of the Biblical “indicative/imperative.” You are, therefore you can and must so live. Our actions flow from our being. And our being is created by the word of Christ telling us who we really are. Who is telling us who we are? There are many voices seeking to define us and persuade us to adhere to their culture. It is a culture which normalizes corruption, oppression, and malicious speech. It denies any voices or lights that question the inevitability of its vision and program which supports dominance, competition, and power. Alternative voices are invisible and ineffective, it says. Who is telling us who we are?
We may not spontaneously identify ourselves as salt and light in this world. But to have seen the crucified Lord is to have seen the salt and light which already has begun to overcome the corruption and darkness that seeks to enslave the world. And to have seen and known Him is to become like Him. It is to know ourselves as participating in his one work of redemption. It is to have our works and life consumed by the glory He gives to the Father. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help and he will say: Here I am! We are qualified through the gift working in the depths of our lives, the salt and light of the grace transforming our hearts. We can turn to those in need and see them as our own, as our self, as the Christ enfleshed in this world.