Today’s gospel immediately follows that classic, all-familiar, sermon on the mount from Matthew’s Gospel which we heard last weekend. After looking over the crowds and calling them blessed, in today’s gospel he looks at the exact same people and says do you know who you are? You are light for the world. You are the salt of the earth. First, who was Jesus talking to? Notice it’s not the religious leaders.
If you back up to the end of the fourth chapter, Matthew tells us who’s gathered there on the hillside that day. Matthew describes the scene as all those who are afflicted with various diseases and were racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. Matthew adds he cured them all. This is quite an image. The group would even include all those who brought and carried their loved ones out there. These are not the group of people society would hold up as the model citizens you want your children to be as they grow up. These are probably people who have heard from the cruelness of society look who you are. You don’t contribute to society, what good are you? You don’t even count.
And to these people, Jesus says you are the light of the world, and you are the salt of the earth. I highly suspect for many hearing these words out of Jesus’s mouth after listening to the rumblings of their villages may have found Jesus’s words hard to believe. How can I be light or salt? I’m a nobody. Jesus is actually asking them to think differently about who they are. Do you know who you are? You are a person who was created in the image in the likeness of God. Therefore, you have the inherent goodness of God.
Isaiah the prophet, who wrote more than 500 years before Jesus was born, illustrates some of the challenges of his society. People turned their heads away from those who are hungry. The oppressed and the homeless were mistreated. Even fellow countrymen were ignored. This is why Jesus’s ministry was so profound. He was the light who had come to people in darkness. And then he said to those on the hillside, “Now you, go be light!”
Every year the week before the Super Bowl, the NFL has a most prestigious gathering by which they name one particular NFL player as the Walter Payton Man of the Year. Because the NFL highly encourages its players to be involved in the local communities, each team is allowed to nominate one player for their excellence off the field. Of the 32 nominees, there’s always a couple of stories that grab at my heartstrings. While each story is unique and different some of the most profound and memorable stories are from players who grew up in such utter poverty and heard those negative voices every day. Now that they found success and affirmation, they haven’t forgotten the difficulties of their childhood, and they know a small investment of their time can change a young person forever—especially when that young person has been programmed with negative voices. Some of these stories are textbook on the contemporary passion and the power of redemption. It is obvious when the motivation comes from the depth of the heart. For then the kindness and goodness of the person shine, and they are truly a light for the world.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.