On this 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Jesus calls his disciples salt and light. (Matthew 5: 13-16) He instructs them and us as well that the way we live in the world as his disciples is important. As his disciples, we are to mirror his way of life. We are to carry on his very mission and ministry. In this way we let our light shine in the midst of the world, and give glory to our heavenly Father.
The other readings today further explain that to live in the world as salt and light requires that we grow always in relationship with Jesus Christ, and that we be mindful of the poor and marginalized. Our lives must be rooted in justice, charity and goodness. For St. Paul, this meant one thing only: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Well into his apostolic ministry, St. Paul made a visit to Jerusalem to visit with St. Peter and some of the apostles to confer about their ministry. St. Paul received confirmation regarding his preaching among the gentiles, along with the instruction that they were to be mindful of the poor. (See Galatians 2: 1-10) This continues to be the heart of the Church’s ministry, and this charity is what fuels our work of evangelization.
The Prophet Isaiah gave similar instruction to the people of Israel:
Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58: 7-10)
There is a direct link between our mindfulness, care and inclusion of the poor and the effectiveness of how we carry out the mission of the Church, which is simply proclaiming Jesus Christ to the world. The Prophet Isaiah also makes another interesting connection between our just relationship with the poor and that very goodness as a balm for healing our own wounds, both as church and as individuals.
Many people today are curious how we heal the wounds of the church, and today’s readings give us one pure and simple answer. Do not forget the poor!
The need to place the poor at the center of the church has been a long-running and persistent message of Pope Francis, outlined clearly in his earliest Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy Of The Gospel. I encourage you to read the section on The Inclusion of the Poor in Society towards the end of this document, but here is a most relevant quote:
Our commitment [to the poor] does not consist exclusively in activities or programs of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”. (Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., II-II, q. 27, a. 2.) This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”. (Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 110, a. 1.). The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 26, a. 3.) and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?” (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), 50: AAS 93 (2001), 303) Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”. (St. John Paul II as cited above) (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, Paragraph 199)
May this week be a blessing to each of you, as you further ponder the Gospel and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, I pray, your lives will be a blessing to many others as together we become salt and light to the world.