Sunday, February 5, 2017

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 5, 2017
Matt 5: 13-16
Is 58: 7-10
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.: Scout Sunday

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden” (Matt 5: 14). Last weekend we began 5 Sundays of gospel readings from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ new law for the new people of God created by the new covenant he came to establish.  The Sermon takes up ch. 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel; in 5 readings we get only selections from those 3 chapters, obviously.
Our very short selection today—just 4 verses—comes immediately after the Beatitudes, our reading last weekend.  Together, these 2 passages make up the general introduction to the whole Sermon on the Mount.  If the disciples of Jesus live the Beatitudes, they will in fact be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a beacon shining in the darkness like Champaign-Urbana as you arrive on the interstate in the middle of the nite.

Two weeks ago, a parishioner faulted my homily for being “too political.”  The word politics comes from the Greek word polis, which means “city.”  In the gospel we just heard, Jesus compares his disciples to “a city set on a mountain.”  How are we to be cities seen by everyone?  to be the light of the world?  to be like salt, which gives a good flavor to our food or preserves it from spoiling?

Certainly not be withdrawing from the world and hiding ourselves like survivalists in the mountains of Idaho.  Certainly not by spending our lives only at prayer, being “pious” people in the privacy of our churches and families.  Now, being pious and spending time at prayer in church and at home are essential to our being disciples of Jesus.  We can follow Jesus only if we are with him, only if we listen to him and talk to him.

But that’s not enuf to make us light and salt for the world, cities on a mountain.  Jesus says explicitly that others should see our good deeds, and that should promote God’s glory (5:16).  As we read the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we’ll hear Jesus getting more specific about how to give godlike flavor to the world around us, how to shine the light of God’s love upon our world.

And we heard some of that in the 1st reading this morning.  If you will, Isaiah is a very political prophet—all the prophets are political—insofar as he tells us how to live in the polis, in the city, in our society, among our neighbors.  Following the teaching of the prophets and of Jesus, the Church has an entire moral doctrine called “social justice” or “the social gospel.”

What did Isaiah command us today?  “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked” (58:7).  That sounds like Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgment in Matt 25, in which he tells the saints and the damned alike, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (25:40,45).  That’s why saints like Vincent de Paul, Don Bosco, and Mother Teresa dedicated their lives to the poor, the neglected, the hopeless of this world.  Those are some of the good deeds the world needs to see—and to learn to imitate, and so to glorify God.  That’s why we as individual Christians and a parish are expected to do the same within our own means (time, treasure, and talent, as we so often hear).  That’s why the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts take oaths “to help other people at all times” and strive to “do a good turn daily,” to let the light of their good deeds shine.  Baden-Powell was a very religious man and deliberately instilled gospel values into Scouting.
Walpi, Ariz., 1941 - National Archives
Both Christianity and the Scouting programs also expect us to bring our helpfulness and our sense of justice into the wider world of the polis—to be citizens of the nation and of the world; in Don Bosco’s phrasing, to be “good Christians and upright citizens.”  We are to be politically involved in matters of social justice like homelessness, hunger, health care, refugees, the environment, war and peace, life and death—whatever concerns the dignity of human beings made in God’s image.  Popes have been teaching that since Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century; the 2d Vatican Council taught it in our own lifetimes (if you’re my age); our bishops teach it constantly; it’s a strong theme in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ and countless homilies and addresses, including his words to the U.S. Congress in September 2015:

Keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.  They too need to be given hope.  The fight against poverty must be fought consistently and on many fronts, especially in its causes.  It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.  The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology, and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy that seeks to be modern, inclusive, and sustainable.[1]

We are to be politically involved in matters of social justice because God tells us, thru Isaiah, to remove oppression from our midst and to stop lying and slandering others; just yesterday someone deplored to me all the “inflammatory rhetoric that’s out there.”  We are to feed the hungry and bring relief to the afflicted (58:9-10).  We are to act thus, Isaiah says, if we want God’s light to brighten our darkness; if we, in turn, want to reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of our sinful world, becoming beacons of faith, hope, and love, becoming a polis of faithful disciples and good citizens for God’s kingdom—here on earth and in eternity.

[1] Quoted in Richard E. Pates, “Values and Voting,” America, vol. 214, May 23-30, 2016, p. 17.

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