A Cycle – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Mt. 5: 13-16
Growing up in Louisiana, a predominantly Catholic state, I was not exposed to many other faiths. What I knew of them was mainly through stories about them and their beliefs. It was not until later in life did, I ever have any serious conversations with other faiths about their beliefs or practices. Those other faiths included Eucharistic faiths, biblical based faiths as well as Jews and Muslims. I will also admit when it comes to certain teachings I find little to dispute because the lessons we learn from the words of Christ are or should be common values based on love of God and love of neighbor, no matter what faith we profess.
Today’s gospel is one of those for in the words of Jesus we find who God created us to become; salt of the earth and a light to the world. I think one of the issues we have in trying to follow these words of Christ is rooted in other teachings we have been taught over the years which demand we do those things without bringing attention to ourselves. In my life, that concept of not bringing attention to ourselves was taught to me in my home and in my catechism classes.
According to my early per-Vatican II religious’ education, the sin of pride was to be suppressed and you were not to do anything which caused others to lavish accolades upon you. This would cause one to need the praise and attention thus it was self-indulgent and sinful. I later learned how wrong that teaching was because when someone is gifted with the ability to sing, to be compassionate or to move others to open their lives to God it is because God gifted us with that ability. Once we understand how God gifted us, we can overcome the temptation of pride and learn how thank God for the gift and learn to use it to be the salt and light Jesus talks about.
For those incorrect concepts in our formative faith years not to become the foundation of our faith today something must open our eyes to see, to feel and to hunger for the truth of the gospel. We like the woman at the well must thirst for what Jesus is offering us. That something is to see a person who is living salt and light and how they seem to have an open love of God, a peacefulness in their lives, a joyous attitude even in their midst of trials. It is people like that which draw us to desire what they have.
All to often what we see in the faces of those who surround us each week in church is the opposite. There is no joy, no excitement in their demeanor as they worship. In fact, what we see is boredom, a lack of exuberance and joy. We see neutral expressions from the opening song to the closing song. Why are we so expressionless as we gather to worship and give thanks to God for making it possible for us to experience all the wonders and awe experienced by the early Christians.
We are not that way in our daily lives are we. We have great passion for the things we love, sports, family, politics, music, art, love, education and so much more. We just witnessed the parade held for the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of the Super Bowl. Cold weather with a forecast of snow did not stop thousands of fans from showing up to celebrate, cheer, painted faces in the crowd, yelling, happy excited people about what – football. Why can’t we show emotion in church, it is not forbidden. Oh, I forgot the lesson of the nuns, we must be quiet in church, we must not squiggle but be rigid and attentive, even when it hurt to kneel on hard wood kneelers. No, we must not ever show any emotions that we are in need nor because we are excited to be in the presence worshiping God.
If salt has no flavor, Jesus says it is useless. Where did we hear that before? Remember the parable of the talents and its blunt message. The one who had been given one talent was called “wicked and lazy” (Mt. 25:26) because he did nothing with the talent he was given. We have been misguided by well-intended people who honestly believed our outward appearance has a lot to do with changing our interior disposition. But God is not fooled for the scriptures tell us God knows the intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
But all of this about salt and light is not to be interpreted as something we do to please God. It has more to do with who we are rather than doing something to make God happy with us. It is not something we set out to do. Those of us who are extroverts cannot force ourselves to do something out of our comfort zones. It is not about our personalities, instead it is about our hearts burning with the fire of God’s love, moving us to passion. An extrovert can be a passionate lover.
In fact, the disciples were cowering in fear until something happened to their hearts at Pentecost. On that day they received exactly what John said Jesus would send to them, a baptism in Spirit and fire. We too need this same thing to happen to us for without fire we cannot be light to the world. So, the issue for us is how do we change our hearts, so we have passion instead of passivity.
I can speak from experience from my own experience of experiencing people who were unencumbered by decorum, free to worship God that drew me to desire what they had. The lives of those exuberant people I encountered in Charlotte, N.C. when Anne and I married and moved away from Louisiana caused me to want a faith that was visible not hidden or private. But I did not know how to move beyond the restrictions I had been taught as a child.
But it was a desire tor the life Jesus promised to all of us that allowed me to overcome the resistance within me to try something I was uncomfortable with and respond to the invitation of Jesus to be baptized in Spirit and Fire. To allow our lights to shine begins with a desire to respond to the call of Jesus. Then once we say yes to the call of discipleship, we must set aside the internal barriers which will tell us this is not how we should act in church. We must enter the worship and allow the Spirit to work within us giving us expression of joy, peace and love of God to show in our actions, our facial expressions and yes in our willingness to let our light shine when in the presence of others.
In the end it is as simple, say the words the woman at the well said, “give me this water”, or the words of Bartimaeus, “Lord, I want to see.”