Monday, February 10, 2014

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fratres, Nolite Deficere Benefacientes [1]

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Februarius ix, MMXIV

Parish of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Rosa Road)
Rev. Michael Taylor

For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish,
According to His good will.
And do ye all things without murmurings and hesitations;
That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof,
In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation;
Among whom you shine as lights in the world. [2]

            The words of our Gospel are of course well known to us and so I would like to take a careful examination of these words, to see what depth we might be allowed to fathom, if God, in His mercy, deem it fitting for us to do so.

You are the NaCl of the Earth

You are the salt of the earth

For the Jewish people what would this saying have meant? First, what did it mean to ancient people in general? Salt was life giving, necessary for day-to-day living. Salt was also precious. It was as valuable as gold, and indeed, many were actually paid in salt. It’s where we get the word “salary” from the Latin word for salt, sal. It cured meat so that they would keep long into times of hardship. Salt is what gives food its vibrancy. To this day, almost every recipe calls for salt because salt breaks down cell walls of ingredients, thus releasing the flavors contained therein. Thus, salt is always at the service of something beyond itself. It does not exist as valuable unto itself but rather for how it makes better that which it comes into contact with. Thus our Lord’s admonition that salt must maintain it’s flavor. Yet to maintain its saltiness, it requires a conformity, a dying to itself for the sake of its task.

Fortunately our Lord did not say, "You are the salt lick of the earth."
We are very grateful.

Again we are told, you are the salt of the earth.

For the Jewish people, salt was heavily involved in the act of sacrifice. In Leviticus, we read whatever sacrifice thou offerest, thou shalt season it with salt, neither shalt thou take away the salt of the covenant of thy God from thy sacrifice. In all thy oblations thou shalt offer salt.[3] Salt thus became a sign of the covenant,[4] the relationship between God and His people.[5] Thus, if you are called the salt of the earth, then you have been instituted into the realm of sacrifice. We must have humility to die unto ourselves, and show humility before God, following the promises we have made to Him. This is no surprise for us. In the Old Testament we read Offer to God the sacrifice of praise; and pay thy vows to the Most High.[6] In the New Testament, our Lord Himself states, Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground  and dies, it will remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth much fruit.[7] So this is what we need to understand our Lord to be saying; you are the salt of the earth. By this He means that we are to be distinct and that in order to be distinct requires sacrifice, a dying of the self for the sake, the service, of the world. If we are not willing to do this, we lose our purpose, our identity. The failure to do this is severe; if salt loses its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing more than to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.[8] To understand why our Lord is so severe on this, we must move on to the next simile used by Christ.

Unless a seed die to itself...

You are the light of the world

It is important to remember that this is not a general speech being given by Christ. It is an address to those who are considering the path of discipleship. The Beatitudes that begin Christ’s sermon marks the goal that the rest of the teachings allow us to attain. When Christ says blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they that mourn, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, this is not the starting point of the Christian life, of Christian discipleship. These beatitudes are the marks of holiness, and thus the rewards for holiness, for being a saint, are that theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they shall possess the land, they shall be comforted, they shall have their fill, they shall obtain mercy, they shall see God and they shall be called the children of God. Christ is fulfilling in his teaching what was laid out in Leviticus, where God continually exhorts, Be holy, for I am holy.[9]

Pictured: The Blesseds 
Again, you are the light of the world

We become the light of the world when we image the icon of Christ. In John’s Gospel, Christ says I am the light of the world; he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.[10] This becomes a call to living a life of heroic virtue. Christ has come into the world, and He is the way, the truth, and the life.[11] If we want to be Christian disciples, then we really need to be serious about the “how” of “how we live.” Do we believe that faith in Christ is transformative? If we do, then are we living lives that are markedly happier, more at peace, more charitable, than those who have no faith? Where is the fruit of that faith, for it is that fruit that becomes the light of the world. It has been said, and will be said again, that the greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips on Sunday, and then walk out the door and go down by their lifestyles. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.[12] Saint Peter, in his second epistle, writes For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment given to them.[13] The Apostle exhorted the faithful that the night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.[14]  Do we believe that the life that Christ has laid out for us,[15] with all its moral precepts, with all it exhortations to pray without ceasing,[16] with his command to care for these the least of our brethren,[17] is worth living out?

The night is passed, and the day is at hand...

A city seated upon a mountain cannot be hid

We are called to be salt and light because we are called to be a community; but not just any community, bur rather the very people of God. When you look back in scriptures, the city of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, was meant to be that city on the hill, the light of God as a beacon to the nations of the earth. In the psalms we read, Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain. With the joy of the whole earth is mount Zion founded, on the sides of the north, the city of the great king.[18] The prophet Isaiah foretells that Mount Zion will be the mountain that all the nations shall come to give praise to God.[19] Indeed, Mount Zion becomes the fount of the salvation of the Lord, as the prophet Joel writes, and it shall come to pass, that everyone that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved: for in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem shall be salvation, as the Lord hath said. [20]

The Earthly Mount Zion
            So when Jesus tells us that we are a city upon a hill that cannot be hidden, he is telling us that he is establishing a new Mount Zion. Now this new community, this new people of God, the Church, it will be distinct, set apart from the world. Because of this, the world will always be at odd with us, to varying degrees. As our Lord said, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.[21] Thus we must be vigilant to conform ourselves to the light of Christ and not the darkness of the world. There is much anxiety in the world today about how do we know what is truth? So often is the thought that what is true for me might not be true for the next person. Yet we have assurance in Christ because of his death and resurrection. He has promised us that ye shall know the truth and that the truth shall set you free.[22] We must be mindful to be obedient to the will of God. When we try to lessen that distinction between the world and us, we become hypocritical. When we say “I think the Church needs to change this teaching” or “I think that this teaching is outdated” we judge not the law, but the lawgiver, who is God Himself. This is pride. As the Proverb warns, humiliation followeth the proud.[23] What is even worse though is when we claim the identity of Christian, of Catholic, and then do not live the life that others expect someone claiming so lofty an identity, a name, to live. As Saint Paul writes, confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness…do you who boast in the law, do you not dishonor God by breaking the law? For it is written that “the name of the God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” [24] Let us then dedicate ourselves to becoming saints. Let us spend time in study of God’s Word and His guidance. Not just for our sake, but for the sake of the world of which we are called to be of service to as salt and light.

The Heavenly Mount Zion

[1] II Thessalonians 3.13: Brethren, never tire of doing right
[2] Philippians 2.13-15
[3] Leviticus 2.13
[4] cf. II Chronicles 13.5: Do you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave to David the kingdom of Israel forever, to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?
[5] cf. Numbers 18.19: All the firstfruits of the sanctuary which the children of Israel offer ot the Lord, I have given to thee and to thy sons and daughters, by a perpetual ordinance. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord, to thee and to thy sons.
[6] Psalm 49(50).14
[7] John 12.24-25a
[8] Matthew 5.13
[9] Leviticus 11.44
[10] John 8.12
[11] John 14.6
[12] DC Talk. “Jesus Freak.” Jesus Freak. 1995…yes, that’s right. You get Latin and an evangelical rap group from the mid-nineties. Because I’m complex like that. This footnote is made possible from a national endowment to seminaries from the Archdiocese of Military Services, from the Diocese of Albany, and from readers like you.
[13] II Peter 2.20-21
[14] Romans 13.12-14
[15] cf. Matthew 5.19
[16] I Thessalonians 5.17
[17] cf. Matthew 25.40
[18] Psalm 47(48).2-3
[19] cf. Isaiah 37.32
[20] Joel 2.32
[21] John 15.18-19
[22] John 8.32
[23] Proverbs 29.23
[24] Romans 2.19, 23—24; Isaiah 52.5

1 comment:

  1. BAM! Very Nice! I wish I heard this yesterday. Keep up the good work Father! I hope to see you again in the future!