1999 02 – 5th Sun Ord (Prison Writings)
Is 58, 7-10
Mt 5, 13-16
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time by F. Cordaro
December 23, 1998 from Charles County Jail
You are the salt of the earth…the light to the World Matt: 5:13-14
In this the Gospel this week Jesus give us two clear metaphors for what a disciple should be for the world around them. Jesus says we should be its salt and its light. Salt is both a seasoning and a preserver. Therefore as salt we should be both the seasoning and the preserver of “something” in the world. Light illuminates, makes known what is hidden in the dark. Therefore as light, we should be the illuminator and make known “something” to the world. The metaphors in the Gospel this week are easily grasped. What is not often understood is what exactly they are referring to. The place of this week’s Gospel text in Matthew’s Gospel is very important in this regard. It follows immediately after the first 12 verses of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is to Matthew’s Gospel what the Declaration of Independence is to the United States. It’s kind of like God’s Declaration of Redemption. And most like the Declaration of Independence, with its opening statement, “We hold these truths to be self evident…” the Sermon on the Mount has its famous opening verses, the Beatitudes. Those Beatitudes are the “comer stone”, the foundational reality for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. They put in clear and concrete language the Divine point of view. They tell us how God wants us to see the world.
When this week’s Gospel tells us we are to be the seasoning preserver and illuminator to the world, it is referring to the Beatitudes. We are called to be the concrete, visible, representatives of God’s point of view in the world.
“So that they may see goodness in your acts” Matt.5:16
It is important to distinguish between words and deeds here. The Gospel says that our “light” should shine so that people will see the goodness in our acts, not just the mouthing of our beliefs. In the U.S.A. we have a long and cherished tradition of freedom of speech. In fact it is codified in our Constitution, in the Bill of Rights. And this is a good thing and I would not want it to be any other way. At the same time, when anybody can say anything, all words are cheap. There is no price to pay for the Words that we say. It is only when we back up our words with the deeds of our lives that they carry any true meaning. In this weeks Gospel, Matthew understands well this distinction between words and deeds. That is why he writes that people must see the goodness in our actions, not just in our words. Anything less is like salt that has lost its flavor, “good for nothing, but to throw out and be trampled under foot”.
Than your light shall break forth like the dawn Is 58: 7-10
This weeks first reading from the book of Isaiah seems to be the lectionary planners way of making sure we don’t miss the main point of this weeks Gospel message. The book of Isaiah is the New Testament’s primary Old Testament reference book. In this week’s text, the prophet makes explicit what this weeks Gospel only implies. If we feed the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, cloth the naked, do away with oppression and false and spiteful speech, if we satisfy the afflicted; our “light shall break forth like the dawn (our) wounds shall quietly be healed.” In fact the prophet goes even further than this weeks Gospel, not only will these works of faith illuminate the world, they will also help heal the wounds of those who perform them.
The Works of Mercy vs. The Works of War
Feed the hungry Destroy the land
Shelter the homeless Bomb the villages
Clothe the naked Abuse and rape people
Give drink to the thirsty Pollute the water
Visit the prisoner Jail the dissenter
Visit the sick Spread disease
Bury the dead Kill the living
Location. Location. Location:
In my standard talk about following the non-violent Jesus and the Resistance Church I often say that the three most important things in selling real estate are also the most important things about following the non-violent Jesus: location, location, location. By this I mean if we are gong to truly understand the challenge of the New Testament, we literally need to locate ourselves into the same socio-economic-political space that Jesus and the early church lived in and ministered in in the first century. Relocating oneself into this same social-public space in which the New Testament was written offers us the best opportunity to read and understand the New Testament as it was originally intended.
Catholic Worker Formation:
The quickest and surest way to put oneself into the New Testament social-public space is to put into practice what the Church calls the Works of Mercy. For me, this hands-on kingdom work came with my involvement with the Catholic Worker movement. The seven years I spent at the Des Moines Catholic Worker; feeding, clothing and sheltering the homeless were the most formative Christian years of my life. Everything I was prior to those seven years helped prepare me for this time. And everything I’ve been since has its roots in that experience. It was during those years that I was able to get the needed re-focus, “the lens adjustment” to my faith vision to start seeing the world through God’s point of view, through the perspective of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes and ever since than nothing has been the same. I might add that having gone through this radial re-alignment I did not need to change one theological or dogmatic truth of my Catholic Faith tradition. Everything I learned through my Catholic Worker Formation was already in the Catholic tradition. What my Catholic Worker experience did for me was to help me sort out and prioritize what was most important from what was not so important.
Human Wisdom Vs God’s Wisdom:
In the weeks second reading from 1.Cor. Paul tells us that our faith can not rest on human wisdom. It must rest on the power of God. But if our faith rests on the Power of God, why does Paul proclaim it “In weakness and fear, and with much trepidation”? Why wouldn’t Paul’s preaching of God’s power have any of the persuasive force of ‘wise’ argumentation that worldly wisdom has? Was Paul such a poor preacher that he couldn’t get the message across? No, I think not. Paul was not dumb. His writings are some of most forceful and clear-sighted arguments for the faith that our tradition has. They make up close to half of the New Testament. So what does Paul mean by this lack of persuasive force of wise argumentation.
I would speak of nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified I Cor. 2:2
The difficulty is in the message itself. Christ crucified is a completely dumbfounding reality. Crucifixtion was certainly a symbol of power, Roman power. It was the symbol of Rome’s Christ, Caesar, over the rest of the world. The power of the crucifier over the crucified. Seeing God’s Power through the crucified Jesus is a radical reversal of our human understanding of power.
If Jesus crucified is what Divine Power is all about than what makes “God sense” makes no human sense at all. When God exercises divine power it turns upside all human understanding of power and privilege. This reversal of human logic helps to explain the Divine logic of the Beatitudes, to show from God’s point of view it is the weak, the poor, the oppressed and powerless of the world that are the most blessed and favored. Add to this, the fact that these two world’s views of human and the divine are not just two different ways of looking at things, like two parallel realities living side by side through human history, never overlapping or intersecting with each other. No, they are in fact two opposing realities in mortal combat, both claiming victory at their “Bloody” point of impact, at odds at every moment and in every place. No wonder Paul’s message of Jesus crucified was a “hard sale” to the Corinthians. “Who” would most people in the first century say was the winner in a show of power, the crucified or the crucifiers? More importantly, who do we say is the most powerful in the world by the way we live our lives?