Salt and Light; Cross and Justice
Our Scripture readings make a circle, each reading touching the other. They each open something in the other and ultimately invite us to rest in what God’s Word is doing among us.
Paul describes himself as a fearful, weak man as he came to testify to God in Corinth. He will not use the persuasive force of “wise” argumentation. He has received grace from God: his failure. Paul’s goal was to proclaim Christ to the learned men of Athens. He did so with eloquence and self-confidence, (Acts 17:22ff). However, he was not successful in confronting the wisdom of the world with his preaching. Something was missing. World wisdom was not impressed.
The grace given to Paul as he left Athens to go to Corinth was his insight into the mystery of the wisdom of the Cross. Only the mystery of Jesus dying and rising, the Paschal Mystery, could stand up against the wisdom of the world. This is the wisdom of the spiritually mature; the stumbling block and absurdity to many, but the power of God and wisdom of God.
Paul’s grace has something to say the poor of the Beatitudes. Matthew’s gospel gave us the Beatitudes last weekend and now continues by telling us hat we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Fr. John Donahue, SJ, says the Beatitudes speak the cause of the prophets: justice. As the first teaching of Matthew’s gospel, connects with the last teaching ( Mt. 25, the sheep and the goats,’blessed are those who respond to the suffering of their neighbors’), Matthew surrounds the gospel with the work of compassion and justice. The Beatitudes can fool us. They may sound like the future, but it not an “otherworldly future”. The arrival of Jesus and his proclamation of the Kingdom create the conditions by which the world can be changed now. The promise that justice will be for the persecuted, that heaven is will be ‘yours’, might better be put, the Kingdom of heaven is on ‘your side’ or ‘for you’.
Finally, before we come back to St. Paul, we hear Isaiah writing amidst the ruins of the Babylonian exile. Israel is scattered some in exile, some have fled to Egypt or other parts. But he seems to be speaking to the remnant left behind. Some are doing better than others, even prospering. The sacrifice continues but it is hollow. The light of faith in the God is Israel is dim, zest is tread underfoot like bad salt. In their despair and especially the forgetting of God’s faithfulness Isaias calls the remnant to fidelity.
To those who have the worldly wisdom to succeed and maneuver in a broken world, he calls them to see success by showing love for God and neighbor by keeping the convent. Bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness.
In the mystery of the Cross, where there is exile and brokenness, yet the presence of the Kingdom gives us the strength to be light and salt. We may be aware of our weakness and much trembling but God’s grace gives us the strength of this wisdom to proclaim Jesus compassion and justice where they do not appear to others as wisdom at all.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.