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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb.

6, 2011
(Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16)

The passage from Isaiah reflects one of the basic pillars of Judaism: a social
conscience and a responsibility for the neighbor. In Sunday’s selection the neighbor
is identified as the hungry, the oppressed and the homeless. Christians have often
assumed (wrongly) that they are the only ones who have a responsibility to care for
the neighbor. Jesus inherited this concern from his Jewish roots and continued to
endorse this responsibility in his own ministry.
In Isaiah we see that the vindication of Israel from captivity and darkness
depends on their response to the poor and hungry in their midst. If they care for the
hungry and the afflicted then they can expect an answer to their cry for help from
the Lord.
Ours is less a “this for that” approach. Christians do it because it is right to do
so, not really because we expect anything in return.
By choosing this Isaiah reading we are reminded of last week’s Gospel of the
Beatitudes, offering us a renewed opportunity to rededicate our efforts in service to
the poor and the needy as an obligation as old as Israel’s covenant with the Lord. To
ignore the needy in our midst is not an option, neither for the Jew nor for the
Christian nor for the Muslim. We are all bound by this basic principle of love of the
neighbor.
The Gospel selection continues the Sermon on the Mount with two sayings of
Jesus. “You are the salt of the earth” is well known as a saying of Jesus but not
always so well understood. “You” is second person plural, meaning that it applies to
the group of disciples as a whole. Salt was used as a preservative as well as for
flavoring foods. Since we still use it today it is obvious how important it is to
human beings.
Jesus does not expound what he means by the statement but he adds that if salt
“loses its taste” then it is no longer any good. Of course then it wouldn’t be salt
either. The presumption is that disciples must retain their “saltiness” if they are to
do any good as disciples.
“You are the light of the world” is again in the second person plural and refers
to the whole group of disciples who must let their light shine rather than hide the
light. The purpose of a light is to provide light, not to be hidden. The twist in the
saying comes at the end. The reason the disciples are to do good deeds (meaning to
let their light shine) is so that others who see the good deeds will praise not the doer
of the deed, but the heavenly Father who has given the light in the first place. This
would be something like saying that members of a Church community should
definitely give alms, but we should not be praised for it. All praise goes to the
Father. We are only doing what we’re supposed to do in letting the light shine so
our light gives light to all.
That brings us to Paul’s continuing instructions to the Corinthians, this time
where Paul admits that he came to them without fancy words or any particular
wisdom. Indeed after his disastrous performance in Athens (see Acts 17:22-34), he
was probably a bit hesitant and fearful after essentially bombing out. Instead he
came to Corinth preaching a crucified Christ. “I came to you in weakness and fear
and trembling.” But the response of the Corinthians to his preaching was Spirit-
driven, based not on “human wisdom, but on the power of God." That’s the way it
should be.
Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer