February 9, 2020.

The context of the first reading from the book of prophet Isaiah, (Is 58:7-10), was the complaint of the people of Israel that their prayers were not being heard despite their fasting. The Lord brought to their attention that if they remained rebellious to His commandments like exploiting people, quarrelling and fighting, and lacking in charity, their fasting will not be acceptable to Him. The manner of fasting the Lord accepts is for us to share our food with the hungry, to provide shelter to the homeless poor, to clothe the one we see to be naked, and not draw back from our own kin. In this way, one’s light will shine like the dawn and if one cries, the Lord will answer.

The Gospel of today continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which runs from chapter five to seven of the Gospel of Matthew. The background to the Sermon on the Mount and the proclamations made by Jesus was him as the law giver, that is, the new Moses; the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecies. Moses had prophesied that the Lord would raise a new prophet and it was to him the people of Israel must listen to (Deut 18:15-18). Hence, as Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments of God and communicated them to the people of Israel, so did Jesus go up the mountain to proclaim his Christian manifesto.

Jesus addressed his sermon to the crowd who had come to listen to him (mt 5:1-2). The first part of the sermon was the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12), which was a compendium for Christian living. Today, the followers of Jesus were referred to as the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, (Mt 5:13-16). In ancient world, before the invention of refrigerator, salt was used as preservative for meat or fish, and in modern time, it is used to make food tasty. The disciples of Jesus are invited to spice up the earth as “the salt of the earth” by being agents of hope, peace, love, harmony, meaning and social justice. Jesus said that if salt has lost its essential property, that is, if it is no longer tasty, then, it is not useful in the kitchen, it would be thrown away on the footpath to be trampled upon.
When one betrays one’s identity as a Christian through apostasy or blasphemy or by being unrepentant of grave sins, that disciple of Christ is like the salt that has lost its taste. We must realise that we can do nothing if we are estranged from Jesus, for he came to seek and find those who were lost, (Lk 19:10). Hence, when we derail from his path, we should acknowledge our sins and come back to him, for he is aware that it is the sick who needs the doctor and not the healthy, (Lk 5:31).

Jesus also stated that, “’You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden.’” Our vocation as Christians has set us apart like a city built on a hill-top. We recall that Jesus had also referred to himself as the “light of the world”, who ensures that his followers do not walk in darkness, (Jn 8:12). Thus, for us to be the light of the world is to be another Christ. We become another Christ through our reception of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, matrimony (for married people) and Orders (for deacons and priests). The first reading reminds us that it is through the feeding of the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the needy and being charitable to one’s family members that our light shine.

Jesus was adamant in the Gospel that we must allow our light to shine, so that people can see our good works and give praise to God. Our faith in Jesus Christ should not merely be a private matter; it must have external manifestations. St James had warned that faith that has no good work to back it up is dead! (Jm 2:17).

There are behavioural patterns or traditional customary practices like treating some members of the community as subhuman or outcasts or untouchables that are in-compatible with our vocation as the light of the world. These behavioural patterns or traditional cultural practices had led to such atrocities as Trans-Atlantic slave trade, modern-day slavery, apartheid, the Second World War, structural injustices and bigotry. In our relationship with our fellow human beings, we should be conscious that each person no matter the colour of his skin or height or intelligence or place of birth or gender is created in the image of God, (Gen 1:26-27). Christ shed his blood on the cross for the redemption of all humanity. As Christians our desire should be to lift people up, to ensure that people have a better life, to rejoice with those who have cause to rejoice and to console the sorrowful, to stand shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed and be a voice to the voiceless. In this way, the light of Christ will continue to shine through you, and you can say unequivocally with Christ that, “you are the light of the world!”

Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp

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