The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2020 – Cycle A
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Do you like it when “the tables are turned” on you?
I suppose only if the advantage is in your favour, right?
Outraged at the injustice wrought by a rich man who owned a great many sheep and cattle by taking the only one owned by a poor neighbor to feed a visiting traveler, the prophet Nathan turned the tables on King David using the incident to confront David’s own treacherous murder of Uriah to steal his wife Bathsheba with whom he had committed adultery and was now pregnant.
Well today Jesus turns the tables on us.
Last Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we heard in the Gospel how the prophet Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God for being able to see the one who is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel”.
This Sunday, Jesus turns the tables on us. The whole Liturgy of the Word beats rhythmically: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…”. “The just person is a light in darkness to the upright”. “…whoever follows me will have the light of life”. Culminating in Jesus’ declaration, “You are the light of the world”.
It is easier and entails less responsibility on our part to hear Jesus’ self-declaration, “I am the light of the word…” then that WE are light. We do not remember, most of us being baptized as infants, but the priest took the Paschal Candle with its large flame and addressed each of us, “George, Deborah, Craig, Alison…Receive the light of Christ!”
The fire of Christ was given to each of us. Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ is also baptism into the fire of the Spirit. Death, Resurrection and Pentecost are one event!
But, what is this fire? What does it mean to be light in a dark world?
Jesus is very clear and straight forward, “your light must shine that others may see your good works and be led to God”.
Many Christians quietly go about their good works not drawing attention to themselves. On Ash Wednesday Jesus affirms this form of Christian living when he teaches us to pray, fast and give alms in such a manner that only God who sees what is hidden will offer us life.
But in a world of darkness, Jesus also know that light needs to shine! And is that not our world today?
How many people are hungry in a nation that overeats and then wastes even more food?
How many homeless are on our city streets? How many families are on our borders refugees from violence and climate change around the world? How much more obvious in our present political climate do we need to remove false accusations and malicious speech from our discourse. Forms of language that degrade human dignity. How many people do we make invisible by not acknowledging their presence in a variety of ways.
When God through the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “do not turn your back on your own”, God is not talking about the groups we identify with but humanity. Humanity is our own! “Do not turn your back on humanity!”
All of these human situations are summed up in the words of Paul: “For I resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. People who are hunger, homeless, stripped of dignity, falsely accused, oppressed, afflicted are Christ crucified! The crucifixion is not a past event but an ongoing event of redemption. Do we recognize and know Jesus in these guises? This is why we need to be light and a light that others can see. This is not a time, though it be in honest humility, to hide our light.
Consider the work of Saint Teresa of Kolkata and her Missionaries of Charity caring for the poorest of the poor in a nation now riddled with Hindu nationalism. The voice raised for the opposed across the radio waves of Saint Oscar Romero in a nation that continues to be riddled with violence.
Who speaks up in our nation against division, unbridled tribalism, rising anti-Semitism, and malicious speech? Who speaks up for the homeless, refugees and outcasts?
At the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis in the 1980s it was Sr. Karen Helfenstein of the Sisters of Charity who led her staff to welcome and care for gay men at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Chelsea, Manhattan; men who were suffering and dying from a contemporary plague that raised fear among us.
It is Sr. Norma Pimental, a Sister of the Missionaries of Jesus and Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley who works with the refugee and immigrant families at our southern border who many citizens do not want.
It is Sr. Helen Prejean of the Congregation of Saint Joseph, who walks with people on death row and is the spokesperson for the injustices of our penal system and an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty in our country. She speaks to the intrinsic human dignity of every person.
It is Sr. Ilia Delio, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington and a theologian who raises a voice for the environment and dialogue between religion and science.
These are four of our lights shining in the darkness of our world in our country.
How are you light? For whom do you raise a voice?
The tables have been turned!