Sunday Sermon for February 5, 2023, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16
In the second reading today, St. Paul reminds the people of Corinth of how they came to faith in Jesus. He also reminds them of his own disposition when he arrived at Corinth from Athens. St. Paul says he did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom; rather, he spoke only of Jesus, and Jesus Christ crucified. This meant the faith of the Corinthians was based on Jesus and His saving work on the Cross, and not on impressive words or sublime speech.
This means that their faith was based on something divine, not on something human. What is most amazing is to think these people believed in the power of God that was demonstrated in the crucifixion of our Lord! St. Paul could have explained the faith to them in parables, riddles, stories, images, or any other way human wisdom might concoct, but that was not the way God chose to save the world and it is not the way true faith comes about.
Perhaps we know someone who came to the faith because of someone’s example or because of the eloquent preaching of a gifted orator, but at some point, the person had to go beyond the human means of communicating the faith, and put their faith in Jesus Himself. After all, if someone is living the faith and inspiring people by their actions, they would want the new converts to believe in Jesus, not in their own example.
This is what our Lord tells us in the Gospel: let our light shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to the Father. In other words, it should be evident to others that we are trying to serve the Lord and, therefore, we want to draw others to Him, not to ourselves. So, when St. Paul was preaching to the Corinthians, he was being a light who pointed to the light. This meant the faith of the Corinthians was in Jesus, not in Paul.
This is something each of us needs to consider for ourselves. First, is our faith in Jesus? Second, is our faith in Jesus the reason why we do what we do? Third, are we drawing people to our Lord or to ourselves? Most of us would object that it is all about Jesus and not about ourselves, but we must be careful because the selfishness can be very subtle.
The problem for us is that if we are doing things for selfish reasons, then we are like the salt that has lost its flavor. If our faith is truly in the Lord, then we recognize He is the One Who has made us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This, then, becomes the manner of living out our faith in the Lord and serving the Lord.
Salt affects everything it touches; the same can be said of light. I don’t know if it is possible for either salt or light to be neutral. Perhaps this is why our Lord told us to be hot or cold, because if we are lukewarm, He will spew us out of His mouth. Salt, for instance, can preserve things, flavor things, or be used to melt snow or ice. On the other hand, salt can corrode things or too much salt can ruin a dish or our health.
How do we affect people? Being pushy or arrogant will usually be corrosive, that is, it will turn people away. Humbly serving others out of charity will touch people positively. Perhaps it will take a number of occasions, but eventually people will begin to see that there is something, indeed, Someone, beyond the self Whom we are serving.
In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us how to be the light for others: by our works—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the oppressed and homeless; and also by our words—removing oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech. When the light shines through both our works and our words, then our light will break forth like the dawn and rise in the darkness and gloom of this world.
St. Paul learned through experience, that if people were going to believe in the Lord, they needed to hear about Him, and they needed to see the living example of those who spoke about Him. Clearly, if one speaks about Jesus Christ Crucified, there is little chance that others would be attracted to anything but Him. This attraction could only be due to grace and not to the mellifluous words of the person speaking. This is the call for each of us: have true faith in Jesus Christ Crucified, and have such a love for Him that we would bring Him to others through our words and deeds.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.