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 same time that Isaiah was reviving a living faith among the people in Jerusalem, his contemporary up in northern Israel, the prophet Amos, was expressing his fierce indignation about the plight of the poor and needy, who were being denied justice in the courts (Amos 5:7, 10, 12, 15) and whose goods were confiscated (5:11). In his turn, Isaiah also makes an impassioned cry for social justice. His sense of fairness and sharing comes from his deep sense that God’s creativity and glory fills the whole earth (Isa 6:3). The divine presence fills not only the temple but the whole of creation. Yahweh desires human beings to make justice flourish on the earth. To buttress his appeal, Isaiah warns of a coming day of judgment, because of the inhumanity of the great and the powerful towards the weak, poor and helpless.
His people, unfortunately, seemed to prefer formal religion to honesty and justice. Just as Isaiah felt personally cleansed through the burning coal scorching his lips, his people needs cleansing too. They need to change their behaviour, to practice a more honest kind of religion (Isa 1:16-17). Only if they sincerely try to practice justice can their worship mean anything. Isaiah ends with the promise: “if you feed the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, your light shall rise in the darkness..” (58:10.) Sharing and justice are essential, if we are to please our God.
In calling his people to conversion, John the Baptist echoed the teaching of Isaiah when he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with whoever has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Jesus, too, chose words from Isaiah about mercy and compassion, as his own manifesto. 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 proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4: 17-19; Isaiah 61:1)
In today’s Gospel he says “let your light shine before others..” But how can we reconcile “letting our light shine” with the fact that Jesus spent most of his own life quietly in Nazareth, as the son of the carpenter. What Jesus practised at Nazareth was fidelity to the ordinary, the daily routine, which requires its own kind of courage. What sets him apart was anchoring his whole life in God, to let the Father be the guiding force in his life.
The quiet practice of virtue was the hallmark of the saints, who never published their holiness, but just tried to remain close to God, in a spirit of “loving attentive expectancy,” as St John of the Cross put it. This spirit marked the life of saint Therese of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24, after living as an enclosed nun from her teenage years. Some of the other nuns thought that Therese had achieved nothing at all in her short life. Yet within a generation, this young nun who had never left her convent was proclaimed Patroness of the Foreign Missions. Even from her cloister she let her light shone out. Reflecting on the three virtues that last, faith, hope and love, Therese saw prayerful love as her special mission in life. “In the heart of the Church,” she said, “I shall be love.” And from that loving spirit the grace of God was richly channeled out to the missionary world.