Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 5
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
When Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth,” his metaphor may have evoked bad memories and feelings of horror. At the least, it may have seemed a puzzling statement.
Under Roman domination, Jewish peasant farmers had to pay several annual taxes. Most burdensome were the Temple tax of half a shekel to Jerusalem authorities and property tax to local magistrates levied at a sizable percent of their agricultural produce. If they refused or were delinquent, Roman soldiers would cruelly salt their fields to destroy their livelihood. The threat was terrifying.
Frequently in Israelite history, conquering invaders would salt the land to declare their victory and intimidate the vanquished into servitude and worship of their new king. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, “salted land” was synonymous with “desert wasteland,” a painful reminder of dark days.
On the other hand, it was Jewish custom to see salt as symbolic of a covenantal relationship. In sacred ritual, Temple priests used salt to sparkle incense. All offerings had to be sprinkled with salt.
Israelites also used salt as a food preservative and source of flavor to spice up meat.
Jesus’ declaration calls his disciples — then and now — to see themselves as the salt that cures, not as salt that punishes or oppresses. He calls us to be a cure for injustice and an antidote for oppression. By ministering to the suffering he urges us to be “the light of the world.” Visible from the mountaintop, our bold discipleship cannot be hidden under a bushel basket, but instead must be “light to all in the house,” glorifying God by our lives.
Also, Jesus calls all followers to be the salt that both preserves the faith and invigorates it with our actions.
The vast majority of Americans reported feeling “repulsed” by our recent national election campaign. Why did it sink so low? Are fear and anger so pervasive that our salt has gone sour, infected our spirit? As disciples of Christ we are called to be a light to all.
Founded on the ideals of indivisibility, liberty and justice for all, the U.S. professes to be one nation under God. May our actions match our words!
QUESTIONS: With a new presidential administration, what will I personally do to manifest healing and unity after such a divisive campaign? How can we as a nation be a light to the world?
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 12
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37
Most people would agree that living an ethical life boils down to our personal choices between “good” and “evil.” Others might use different criteria, such as useful or not useful, pleasurable or not pleasurable, etc. Whatever our standards, we value the freedom to identify our own paths as one of the most treasured aspects of being human, and we resist someone else’s telling us what to do.
Today’s readings are full of references to making wise choices, but as St. Paul states, the wisdom informing those choices is “not a wisdom of this age.” The wisdom spoken to “those who are mature” takes the form of “statutes,” “decrees,” “commandments” and “law” — the very things that make postmodern society nervous.
Fearing a loss of freedom, some renounce organized religion and submission to God’s commandments. But the Bible leads us to a great paradox. God, the author of human freedom, doesn’t command us to act unjustly and “to none does he give license to sin.” St. Augustine put it another way, writing that God is the master “whom to serve is perfect freedom.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only affirms the “law and the prophets” but interprets them more rigorously, teaching that “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
In our day-to-day living we constantly make choices, between the freeway or the backroads, a salad or a burger, or whether to wear the blue tie or the red one.
Very seldom do we actually choose between “good” and “evil,” but faced with what we perceive to be two “goods,” we usually pick what we think is better; or confronted with two undesirable outcomes, we go for the one that’s “not so bad.” And we think that our exercise of choice comprises the extent of human freedom.
Today’s readings are God’s invitation to take his gift of freedom to the next level, to not merely settle for the lesser of two evils or the more expedient of two good outcomes. God wants us to be truly free in the deepest sense of the word, to be formed according to his life-giving divine wisdom and to act accordingly. His commandments are the means that make this possible.
QUESTION: How do you use God’s gifts of free will and his commandments to make daily decisions?