A wise rabbi challenged his students, “How can you tell the exact time of the dawn?” One replied, “When you can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep from a distance.” “No,” replied the rabbi. “When you can distinguish a grapevine from a fig tree,” another suggested. “No,” answered the rabbi. “Then how can you tell the time of the dawn?” his pupils asked. “When you look into the eyes of another person and recognize your brother or sister. Until then it is night and darkness is still with us.”
I’ve always loved this little story. And it sets up our readings today, in which the Lord declares that our ability to be light is wrapped up in our relationship with one another. Yet I think this is just part of an ongoing theme that we’ve been encountering. If you’ll permit a little recap: we can go back to Christmas and Epiphany, when we considered that famous star that lead/pointed the shepherds and the magi from the East to encounter the Christ Child. Three weeks ago I gave the example of Dory from Finding Nemo to remind us that we must be diligent in not forgetting our primary mission in life that God gave through the prophet Isaiah: “I will make you a light to the nations.” Two weeks ago we heard, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” And last week Jesus taught His great direction/blueprint/program for Christian living, the Beatitudes.
But none of this is for its own sake. The star of Bethlehem didn’t exist for its own sake, but to point others toward Christ. We don’t exist for our sakes; our faith/our religious life doesn’t exist just for our own sake. Today Jesus gives these three great images/analogies comparing us with other things that don’t exist just for themselves.
“You are the salt of the earth.”
Salt only does its thing when it’s acting on something else. It’s used to preserve foods, it’s used to enhance the flavor of food, and we know too that it makes people thirsty. Salt was also used in the ancient world to render an enemy’s fields infertile. Does our life/our Christian life enhance the world and those around us? Does it work to preserve what is good in the world and to render infertile the realm of the Enemy (the Evil One) so that his fruits are unable to grow? Does the witness of our life/our Christian leave others thirsting for more?
“You are the light of the world.”
What does light do? Nothing for its own good. It enables us to see what’s already there. It keeps us from being in darkness. Does our life/our Christian life help others to be able to see the love and grace and mercy of God in their lives? Does it point to the reality of God’s presence in the world? Are we witnesses to the truth, beauty, and goodness that come ultimately from God? Jesus likewise mentions a city on a hill. In a time before electricity, a city on a hill would be a point of orientation to travelers, serving as a beacon to those on the way. We have as our parish vision statement: “St. Peter Parish is a Catholic faith community called to be a beacon drawing others to Christ by proclaiming His Gospel.”
Salt, light, and even a city on a hill exist for the benefit of something else. We exist for the benefit of something else: for the benefit of others. The challenge is to put all this into action—and this is necessary. “Thus says the LORD: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed...If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness.” Jesus says, “…your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
It’s not that we reduce our faith to just being nice and doing good things, but it’s making the connection between who a disciple is and what a disciples does through the Spirit and power of the Lord Jesus Christ living through us, the members of His Body. We know that there are a lot of problems and needs in the world. Without the vibrant, active faith of Christians, the world is a much darker place, and thus the need to have the grace to have everything we do be for the glory of God and the true good of one another.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
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