Theme: Salt and Light: Injustice and structural abuse often stare us in the face, such as long-term poverty, unemployment and homelessness. The Lord invites us to solidarity with people in dire need.
[What is a fast day acceptable to the Lord?] Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
He is a light in the darkness for the upright:
he is generous, merciful and just.
The good man takes pity and lends,
he conducts his affairs with honour. (R./)
The just man will never waver:
he will be remembered for ever.
He has no fear of evil news;
with a firm heart he trusts in the Lord. (R./)
With a steadfast heart he will not fear;
open-handed, he gives to the poor;
his justice stands firm for ever.
His head will be raised in glory. (R./)
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Around the time of Isaiah's ministry in Jerusalem, up in northern Israel, the prophet Amos expressed fierce indignation on the plight of the poor and needy, who are denied justice in the courts (Amos 5:7, 10, 12, 15) and forced into slavery (Amos 2:6-7; 8:6). The goods of the poor are confiscated (5:11), and their garments taken in pledge or in pawn (Amos 2:8). So much of trade is dishonest, with prices inflated and crooked weights and measures used (Amos 8:5).
Isaiah too, blames his people severely for their lack of social justice. This is linked to his deep sense that Yahweh's glory fills the whole earth (Isa 6:3). It is not just the temple that is filled with Yahweh's presence, but all of creation. His message is that Yahweh means to establish justice and righteousness on the earth. In several texts, Isaiah affirms this truth, (Isaiah 1:10-17). He warns of a coming judgment, because of the injustice and inhumanity of the great and the powerful towards the weak, poor and helpless.
Isaiah's community, according to the prophet, valued empty and shallow forms of religious practice at the expense of social justice. Just as Isaiah had experienced cleansing through the burning coal scorching his lips (Isa 6:7), so his people needs cleansing. The solution is provided in concrete actions: they are to be cleansed and subsequently change their behaviour to mirror their new orientation (Isa 1:16-17). Only if they go about healing the wounds of social injustice can their worship of God become really meaningful.. He promises in the name of Yahweh that, "if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall be like the noonday" (58:10.) Some effort to promote justice is an absolute imperative, if we are to please our God.
When his hearers asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" he answered in the spirit of Isaiah, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Little wonder that Jesus, when selecting a text that would describe his own ideals, chose to read from Isaiah a text about showing mercy and humanity to others. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to procaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luke 4: 17-19; Isaiah 61:1)
In India when two people meet, instead of shaking hands they join their hands together and bow towards each other, a gesture that seems to express genuine respect. Perhaps the best way to counter the sign of the clenched fist, mentioned today by Isaiah, is with the sign of the joined hands, which denotes generosity and respect, and one might even say readiness to pray for others. If you allow your life to be moulded by such attitudes, then indeed "your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like the noonday." The gospel is even more emphatic when it says, "Your light must shine before others, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven."
There is a contrast between "letting your light shine," and the fact that Jesus spent most of his own life in Nazareth, whose inhabitants refused to see him as anything other than the son of a carpenter. So much so that, as Saint Mark tells us, he was amazed at their incredulity. "He could work no miracle there because of their lack of faith," (Mk 6:5f). What Jesus practised at Nazareth was ficelity to the ordinary, the daily routine, which requires its own kind of courage. Nazareth then was the scene of a hidden life, the ordinary everyday life of a family, made up of work and prayer, marked only by hidden virtues, and only God and Christ's closest relatives and neighbours were witnesses to any of it. Here in fact we have mirrored the lives of the majority of us. What sets Jesus apart from the rest of us is that he possessed the one basic talent, beside which all others are worthless. This was his ability to to anchor his whole life in God, to let the Father be the guiding force in his life. As he later said, "The Son can do only what he sees the Father doing, and whatever the Father does the Son does too" (Jn 5:19). But this close relationship with God is not something we can earn, or plan for ourselves. Ultimately it is God's doing. It is like the man in the parable, who scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps or when he is awake, the seed is germinating, sprouting, growing. But how, he does not know. Concealment, we might even say, is the way God's glory is revealed in the world. So for the people of Nazareth, Jesus would remain just "the carpenter;" while it was only through the mystery of the resurrection that the light of Christ's true identity was revealed to his chosen disciples.
So it was too with many of the great saints, who never tried to create an impression of holiness, but strove inwardly to remain always close to God, "in loving attentive expectancy," said Saint John of the Cross. These words could also describe the short life of another great Carmelite saint. Therese of the Child Jesus died at the age of 24, after nine years in her convent at Lisieux. Very few outside her cloister were aware of her existence. According to her sister Pauline, several of the nuns even said that Teresa had achieved nothing during her time as a Carmelite. Yet within less than thirty years she had been canonised a saint before a huge throng in Saint Peter's Square in Rome. Two years later, Teresa Martin who had never once left her convent was proclaimed Patroness of the Foreign Missions. How did this come about? Remembering Saint Paul's assertion that there are three virtues that last, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love, Teresa saw her mission in life. "In the heart of my mother, the Church," she said, "I shall be love." And in the concealment of her convent God's glory was to be revealed in a special way before the whole world.