Mt  5.13-16                      Is 58.7-10            1Cor 2.1-5 

Well, now school is back, and we had our welcome back Mass with nearly 500 primary students and staff from St Therese’s school returning this week, and then I went, along with my screeching monkey, to say hello to our 78 new Preps, wide-eyed and happy to be here – so far! Next week it’s Mass at Our Lady of Nativity Primary, and then St Columba’s Secondary  It’s good that we engage our young people, to give them a sense of connection with their faith and Catholic tradition and practice.

And while they mightn’t turn up regularly, we do need to reach out and encourage them, emphasizing the relevance of the person of Jesus and the message he presents, so that’s the aim anyway! All we can do is try. The fact is that their experience of Church is largely within their own school communities, emphasizing Catholic ethos and Christian values, with a strong sense of social justice, in line with the Gospel message, and which we hear from Isaiah today.

We had today’s Gospel, with Jesus using the metaphors of salt and light, immediately following on from the Beatitudes.  Often enough, it’s the Gospel chosen for Year 12 Graduation Masses, and I like to refer to the scientific connection with sodium chloride, or NaCl, as classic ionic bonding and model hexagonal close packed crystalline structure,  and the paradox of light acting as a particle as well as a wave, Einstein’s E = mc2 coming to mind! After all, this is the real physical chemical world in which we live and move and have our being, as they say!!

Jesus often uses such simple examples as metaphors, from real life at that time, of salt and light, directly following one of the greatest speeches in history, with the Beatitudes, or what I call the “Be-Attitudes”, the positive outlook we should have in life, starting with being happy because we are poor in spirit, which doesn’t mean being materially poor, but more that we share our time and talents and possessions with those who are in need.  It’s not just about things that we have or own.  If we live in the spirit of the Beatitudes, we will find happiness together, through working together, looking beyond ourselves.

Back there, as we know, there were no such thing as fridges, with food going off quickly, if it wasn’t preserved in some way, usually with salt, which was also used for adding flavour to a meal.  We talk about people being “salt of the earth”, when they are friendly, open, straight talkers, thoughtful and honest, speaking the truth as they see it, and accepting of each other.

Then Jesus’ second image is of light.  No electricity back there, so no flicking the switch to let there be light!  After sunset and before dawn, a lantern was needed to continue activities, especially when there was no moon in the sky, or bad weather after dark. So Jesus’ example of light is a reminder that we have to enlighten others by our example and care for them.

Our light shines when we think of others and make an effort to bring out the best in ourselves and in those with whom we are involved, starting at home, and wherever else we are.  We can all think of relatively simple ways where we can reach out to be helpful, thoughtful, encouraging and smiling.

So we can still relate to these metaphors Jesus presents, but perhaps not as easily as the disciples of Jesus’ time and the early Church. It is still relatively early in his public ministry, and he is just warming up, in his readiness to confront and challenge the religious leaders of the day, with a more practical and down to earth approach to living a good and faithful life, acknowledging the God of life and love he reveals through word and action, beyond the letter of the law.

Isaiah today gives us some simple practical examples too, prefiguring what Jesus later takes up in the final judgement scenario, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, going on to speak of integrity, letting go of anger, relieving the oppressed.  The precedent for Jesus’ final words of warning about the Last Judgement,  is there in Isaiah’s words of encouragement and hope to the Israelites of his day, and don’t they still echo in practical terms today?

As Brendan Byrne SJ puts it: “The disciples’ good works must function as a lamp, giving light to  darkened world – not to draw attention to themselves, but to lead outsiders to the knowledge and praise of the God who has sent them to be salt and light for the world.”

And my old friend Claude Mostowik MSC also has some good insights into today’s readings: “The written word, legalism, conformity, mere administration, and traditionalism, learning certain creeds, signing mission statements or doing specific spiritual exercises alone cannot contribute to the world’s healing or transformation. God’s word must take flesh in each of us – no matter how frail we may be. The light shines through our humanity, our cracks and our frailties.”  There’s a Leonard Cohen song “Anthem”, which reflects this well, with the lines: “Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Then Claude quotes early Church Father John Chrysostom: “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.” Claude continues: “For Isaiah, our worship should lead to change our heart and behaviour where we actually see and then care for people in need. More than 820 million people – about 11% of the world’s population – are hungry.”   Directly connected to this sobering fact, we have Project Compassion coming up soon in Lent, where we can make a practical contribution to help sustain the many worthwhile projects Caritas Australia supports for the development of people.

So, once again, it’s up to you and me again to do something about getting our light to shine where we can, in ways of personal involvement with activities which contribute to the betterment of others, using our gifts well, and also engaging with others in need of out help.  This is a very practical Gospel which Jesus preaches for us to respond in faith and love.

john hannon                                                            5th  February  2023

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