Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 6 February 2011
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112:4-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Followers of Jesus are called to be the salt and the light of the world. In other words, the world should be a better place for our presence. It is the whole world, after all, which is created, loved and redeemed by God. The spiritual journey for the Christian is not just about us.
The Old Testament reading and the psalm both describe the person whose light shines. They are merciful, tenderhearted, generous, devout, honest, people of integrity who give to the poor. Interestingly, the psalm also says that the righteous do not charge interest. If you think about it, charging interest is a way of increasing one’s wealth simply by having wealth in the first place, and it increases the financial burden on those who lack wealth, entrenching inequities in society. Fundamental differences in ancient and modern economies make it too simplistic to say that any charging of interest is evil, but the point must still be taken: it is not enough to hand out charity, we must also avoid and oppose practices that entrench privilege and perpetuate poverty. That’s not easy to do if we’re the ones benefitting from the status quo!
Isaiah and the psalmist don’t use the image of being salt here, but one can imagine how the actions and attitudes praised add flavor to the lives of others in the sense that their value as persons is validated and their lives are rendered more joyful. Not only that, but the rot in society is halted and even reversed as the good promote and embody a more just and equitable social order.
Note where, according to Jesus, the praise of those who see the light of the righteous shining will be directed: “They will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Letting one’s light shine and blowing one’s own trumpet are two very different things! St Paul demonstrates the difference in practice. From his writings it is clear that Paul is a highly educated man and a master of rhetoric. Yet when he arrived in Corinth to preach the Gospel, he did not try to win audiences with an impressive display of oratory. He tried to communicate in such a way that what grabbed them would be the message of Jesus Christ, and not the fancy packaging. They would have loved a guru to follow, but Paul wanted them to experience the power of God in Jesus. He knew that to be salt and light he didn’t have to put on a shining performance. It takes humility and confidence in God to focus on the needs of others and not on our own need to shine. And precisely when we do that, we become salt and light.