5 February | Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Matthew 5:13-16 - Salt and Light
We have already heard that Jesus was a light to the darkened and troubled areas of Galilee (Zebulun and Naphthali), the site of so many battles. Now Matthew addresses his own community with the challenge to be light and salt. The image of salt is based on the practice of using a block of salt as catalyst for burning fuel(dung) in the oven. When the salt no longer had its catalytic effect it was a solid block, only good for forming part of a road. The catalyst image calls us to people whoallow Christ’s word, message, and action to take place through us. Other images of salt’s effects as the only known preservative of those days, as a flavour for food, as part of the Temple sacrifices, also bring meaning to the call to be salt.
The city of Hippos was a well-lit city, built on a high hill, and visible from Nazareth. It becomes a symbol for the light of faith that is needed for Christ’s followers to light the world. A community living by the vision of Jesus lives in fidelity to his teaching. Thus it is an agent for change and enlightenment in a darkened world. If we as Christians are to be salt and light then our lives must have an effect on others (catalyst), give flavour to our own life, preserve our world for its Lord, and be a light for our sisters and brothers.
12 February | Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Matthew 5:17-37 - Holiness in real life
The Sermon on the Mount continues and here it draws on the wisdom of the early part of the Bible, the books of Moses (You have heard that it was said). What Jesus does is to bring that revealed divine law to its perfection, explaining it more fully and calling for the obedience that makes for greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. But now I tell you.a new interpretation. The dramatic points of the Law such as murder or adultery have at their beginning causes such as anger or lust. It is these that have to be faithfully addressed in our heart (the greater righteousness) before they grow into their evil fulfilment.
The passage begins a series of ‘antitheses’, contrasting one thing against another, not to be interpreted as Jewish law against Christian gospel as Jesus’ teaching has echoes in Jewish ethical tradition. What is fresh and contrasting in the teaching of Jesus is its energy, its drive for radical obedience, a word that comes from ob-audere to hear in a manner that leads to observation. For Matthew, Jesus is the one who fulfils the law and teaches its God-given intention.
Two points to note: 1. Semitic imagery goes to the extremes; plucking out eyes, cutting of hands is not recommended! The meaning of the piece is that the message of Jesus is to be taken seriously while these verses are not to be taken literally. 2. Jesus came to lift our burdens, not add to them. You will hear this come through often. So what are we to make of the several references to being cast into hell? A very respected theologian, often quoted by Pope John Paul II, Hans Urs von Balthassar put it well: ‘For anyone to say that someone is in hell is to claim to know more than they can possibly know; for anyone to claim that there is no-one in hell is also to claim to know more than they can possibly know.” Let us remember that our hope is in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it has achieved what it set out to do, our redemption.
19 February | Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time | Matthew 5:38-48 - Love of Enemies
The law of retaliation (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”) was intended to restrict vengeance and to keep violence within limits. Jesus urges his followers to forgo even the limited retaliation allowed by the Old Testament and thus to interrupt the whole cycle of revenge. Can you imagine how many wars in our world today would cease? Jesus’ disciples must not adopt the attitudes and actions of their enemies, and four practical examples of non-retaliation in the face of evil are provided in verses 39–42. Each example challenges accepted instinctive human behavior patterns.
The cultural setting of these examples explains a great deal about them. If you face someone head on and imagine slapping their right cheek, you will see that in a right-handed society, you would have to use the back of your hand (only slaves and, sadly, women were struck in this way). To demand that the left cheek be struck can be seen as a demand for recognition of dignity. The return of one’s cloak as protection against cold was also part of Jewish law. As for going the extra mile, if caught on a Roman road as St Paul often was, a mile of free labour was demanded as right for Roman soldiers who built them; an extra mile then reverses the obligation.
Because God never limits love, even loves those who are evil, startling as that may be, loving even the enemy, we are called to imitate that generous love and so resemble that God as far as we can by praying for and forgiving and never seeking vengeance. Even doing good for those who hate you! Now that has to be a test for perfection!
26 February | Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Matthew 6:24-34 - On trust in God
Jesus’ teaching on authentic righteousness dominates chapters 6 and 7. The word means being in right relationship with God and the saving action of Jesus that enables us to be in that relationship. Who are we to serve, God or possessions? ‘Hate’ and ‘love’ are meant as decision in the heart for one or the other, something much deeper than feelings. The famous passage about not worrying about your life finds its meaning in the later saying about striving first for the kingdom/reign of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Jesus’ sayings on not worrying about the necessities of life such as food or clothing are not naïve or romantic sayings that overlook the life and death struggle many people have for the basic necessities of life. Even this necessary struggle must be related to the overwhelming reality of God’s reign and one’s commitment to it. ‘Worrying’ is not ordinary concern but a debilitating concern that is in direct contrast to trust in God. It is also a direct challenge to generosity in a sometimes very selfish world.
Gentiles (non-believers) worry about their possessions; their time is consumed by their quest for them. In contrast, disciples of Jesus are to exercise their faith, not to worry, and to focus their attention on the urgent demands of God’s reign.
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