Sunday, 9 February 2020
Being the salt of the earth
as people of faith in
a world needing light
Sunday, 9 February 2020
The Third Sunday before Lent
9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick
The Readings: Isaiah 58: 1-9a (9b-12); Psalm 112: 1-9 (10); I Corinthians 2: 1-12 (13-16); Matthew 5: 13-20.
There is a link to the readings HERE.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
This morning’s readings challenge us to reflect on the true meaning of religion, and to think about how religious worship can be hollow and meaningless unless it leads to compassion and justice.
The Gospel reading continues reading from the Sermon on the Mount. The images of salt and light as explanations of true discipleship and true religion offer interesting illustrations of what true religion is.
In the Gospel readings this year, we are reading through Saint Matthew’s Gospel. But in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Christ begins his public ministry in the synagogue reading from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah (see Luke 4: 1-14).
The scroll of Isaiah was given to him, and the portion he read from includes part of our Old Testament reading. In fact, the three verses he read do not come in sequence: Isaiah 61: 1, part only of verse 2 and a portion of Isaiah 58: 6. And so, even if Jesus had been handed a pre-selected portion of Scripture to read – perhaps following in sequence from two or more previous readers – we see a deliberate choice on his part to roll back the scroll and to insert a portion of that extra verse, Isaiah 58: 6. He then told the congregation that the Scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing.
This portion of Isaiah speaks not only about religious observances but of the people’s attitude towards God.
The people are described as fasting regularly, going to the Temple daily to pray for God’s favour on their wars and political decisions. But, in truth, their religious practices are no more than mere ritual. They continue to oppress their workers and plan warfare.
Instead, God wants true worship that signifies proper relations: ‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 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?’ (Isaiah 58: 6-7).
These are the same values emphasised by Saint Luke in his account of Christ reading from Isaiah in the synagogue, and the very values emphasised by Saint Matthew in his account of the Sermon on the Mount, which we are reading from these Sundays.
Should the people put into practice these values, they are told, God will shine his light on them, heal and restore them, protect them and be present among them: ‘Here I am’ (verse 9). God will be present with his people, guiding them and meeting their everyday needs. When they return from exile, the streets they live on, their houses and gardens, the walls of their city will be rebuilt and their homes restored.
The Psalm (Psalm 112: 1-9) commends those who shine light in the darkness for the upright; those who are gracious and full of compassion; those who are generous in lending; those whose priorities are justice and giving freely to the poor.
This is where to find praise and honour, this is the state of well-being of godly people, who fear God and who obey his commandments.
They will be blessed in their families and with wealth, riches and godliness; they will be examples to others; they will enjoy true happiness; they will be long remembered; they will have no fears; they will triumph over their foes; and they will see the end of wickedness that threatens them.
In this Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 13-20), Christ speaks of the eternal values and truths that the Law and the Prophets point to, and he points himself to the promise and the coming of the kingdom. Yet he does this while drawing upon very ordinary, everyday, domestic images: salt and its role in preserving and cooking food; lights and lamps that give domestic light in our houses and homes; bushels and baskets; hillsides and homesteads; and so on.
Life and time can be very ordinary – time is ordinary – when things keep going on and on, round and round. But even as we wait for the kingdom, that life and that time, in their ordinary ways, are worth celebrating, time after time, in everyday ordinary life.
This morning, Christ uses two metaphors to show the disciples the essential qualities of being his followers.
The disciples are to be ‘the salt of the earth’ (verse 13). In reality, despite what is said here, salt does not easily lose its taste. However, in Judaism, salt symbolised purity and wisdom and was used to season incense and offerings to God in the Temple. Should it become ritually unclean, it had to be thrown out and was no longer to be used by the worshipping community or in its liturgies. Similarly, if Christians lose their faith they are no longer part of the worshipping community and its liturgy, and may as well be discarded or thrown out.
Roman soldiers were given salt rations and this Sal is the origin of the word ‘salary.’ A soldier failing in battle or falling asleep at his post was ‘not worth his salt.’
The disciples are to be ‘the light of the world’ (verses 14-15). They are to stand out, like a city on a hill, and to lead others to Christ, who is a light to the Gentiles (see Luke 2: 32) and the true Light of the World (see John 8: 12).
Christ then reminds the disciples that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them (verses 16-20).
What does he mean by the Law being fulfilled? This is explained fully in our first reading: ‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 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’ (Isaiah 58: 6-8).
And it is explained too in the Psalm: ‘Blessed are those who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments’ (Psalm 112: 1); light shines in the darkness for them because their priorities are compassion, generosity to the poor and justice.
As people of faith, let us be worth our salt; let us never lose our taste for justice, let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Matthew 5: 13-20 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 13 ‘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.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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.
17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
Liturgical Colour (Ordinary Time, Year A): Green.
The Collect of the Day:
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Post-Communion Prayer:
you gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life,
that those who come to him should never hunger.
Draw us to our Lord in faith and love,
that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom,
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord (CD 40)
601, Teach me, my God and King (CD 34)
570, Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (CD 33)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.