Gospel Reflection for Feb. 9, 2020, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

As last Sunday was the Solemnity of the Presentation of the Lord we omitted the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. While usually such an interruption makes little difference in the continuous reading of the Gospel, since we missed the account of Jesus delivering the Beatitudes, the Gospel for this week seems a bit out of context. We continue reading the Sermon on the Mount without having first heard the prologue. In a sense, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount stands as Jesus explaining and highlighting the meaning of those Beatitudes.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are: “the salt of the earth … the light of the world.”

In our celebration last weekend of the Presentation of the Lord, the liturgy focused on the imagery of light, and certainly on Jesus as “the Light to the Gentiles.” Now Jesus turns this image on his disciples, drawing attention to us also as the Light of the world.

Although easy, it is not enough to just be attracted to the light. By virtue of Baptism we share in the Light of Christ. This is symbolized in two ways during the Baptism ritual. First is the powerful presence of the Paschal Candle. Blessed and lit at the Easter Vigil as the priest chants: “May the Light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds,” this candle reminds us of the presence of the Resurrected Christ. Second is the presentation of a candle, lit from the Paschal Candle, to the neophyte as the minister of Baptism says: “Receive the Light of Christ.”

But now what? The Lord does not call us to merely stare at the candle. We cannot imagine that someone living in darkness and upon discovering light would not want to share that light with others. In itself light is indistinguishable. There is no point in hiding the light, for then it ceases to be what it is. A hidden light is no light at all.

Having received the Light of Christ, we are then called to become that Light. Again at the Easter Vigil, the church in darkness is gradually brought to light as the assembled faithful light small candles from the Paschal Candle in procession behind it. With the chanting of the Exsultet the lights of the church come up, pointing again to Christ as the Light.

The symbolism of the candles being lit from the Paschal Candle to light the dark church shows us the necessary effects and the demands of discipleship. Instinctively when a person’s candle is lit, he or she turns to those nearby to light their candles also.

We live in a world enveloped in darkness. The effects of sin in the world are obvious: political division, human trafficking, murder, terrorism, sexual objectification, avarice, and a general moral malaise. The loss of religious faith, and even a sense of disdain at religious practice can seem overwhelming and distressing to the believer.

It is here when we are most needed as the Light of the world. While the light illuminates the world, at times it feels like the light is pointing more to the darkness than to the light. We cannot be light if we focus on the negative, criticize others with vitriol and sarcasm, or approach the faith with hubris and pomposity. We have to remember that we are the “the salt of the earth … the light of the world,” in light of the Beatitudes: to be poor in spirit, meek, peacemakers, merciful. Otherwise, we are like the person who indeed hides the light under a basket, refusing to share the light, but hoarding it making it useless.

This is how we live out our faith-in-the-world. This is what Jesus instructs us in the Gospel for this Sunday. We must live this faith in the world. As we hear in the First Reading, this calls us to exercise care for the welfare of others. To live with integrity of faith – to be the salt of the earth – we must also be men and women of justice. As we cannot help but share light, we must also share our bread with the hungry, care for the oppressed and the needy and provide clothing and sustenance for those who lack.

Let us, then, take the light of faith with us into the world, and not merely hide that faith as something for ourselves alone.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.