Sunday, February 9, 2014

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16

There is a word that scares many Catholics: “evangelization.”
We associate it with people going door-to-door,
disturbing innocent people’s Saturday afternoons with talk of God,
or with co-workers who always want to tell you
about their personal relationship with Jesus.
We tend to think of it a bit of intrusive over-sharing,
not unlike parents (usually the father, for some reason)
who want to tell you the graphic details
of the birth of their child
or perhaps their child’s latest adventures in potty-training.
“Look, I know this is an important thing in your life,
but I don’t really need a blow-by-blow recounting of it.”

Yet in today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples
that they are the light of the world,
and that they are not to hide their light
under a bushel basket.
Now normally when we use that phrase –
“hiding your light under a bushel” –
we are referring to those
who keep hidden their abilities and achievements .
But that is not what it means here;
it is not about hiding the good things we have done,
but about hiding the good things God has done in and through us.
“You are the light of the world…
Your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Our light is always a reflected light,
a light that has its source
in the glory of God that has shone upon us.
Moreover, the good news about God that we are called to share
is not merely good news for us personally,
like the birth of our child
or the joyous day when little John or Mary
finally uses the potty.
It is good news for all people:
the good news of God’s love for the world,
revealed in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
and in the sending of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
One can hardly over-share such news.
As Pope Francis wrote recently,
“if we have received the love
which restores meaning to our lives,
how can we fail
to share that love with others?” (Evangelii Gaudium 8)

Jesus makes it clear that if we are to be his followers
we must share the light of the good news we have received,
but he also makes it clear that our sharing of this good news
is inseparable from the witness of our lives.
“Your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds…”
Of course, this does not mean
that we simply do good deeds and leave it at that,
which I think is perhaps the strongest temptation for many of us.
Talk about religion is awkward.
But if we are to give a truthful account of our lives
at some point we must commit the embarrassing social faux pas
of using the words “God” and “Jesus.”
At the same time, those words will only be interesting to anyone else,
will only seem like something other than intrusive over-sharing,
if they are linked to a life that shows forth the power of faith.
To quote Pope Francis again, “all religious teaching
ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life,
which awakens the assent of the heart
by its nearness, love and witness” (Evangelii Gaudium 42).
We need both words and actions –
and actions that match our words.

With regard to actions:
the prophet Isaiah, in our first reading,
casts light on the kinds of actions
that show forth God’s glory:
“Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…”
Acts of mercy and compassion toward the poor and oppressed
are one of the chief ways in which our lives reflect the glory of God,
because they reflect the way in which God
has dealt with us in Jesus Christ.
To quote again the eminently quotable Pope Francis,
“Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor,
his actions, his integrity,
his simple daily acts of generosity,
and finally his complete self-giving, is precious
and reveals the mystery of his divine life” (Evangelii Gaudium 265).
Perhaps nothing speaks more eloquently to the world
of the mercy and love that God has shown to us
than the acts of mercy and love
that we show to those most in need.

With regard to words:
in our second reading St. Paul says to the Christians of Corinth:
“When I came to you… proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling…”
Paul did not arrive in Corinth
with complex arguments or fine speeches,
but speaking of his own experience of suffering,
his own experience of neediness,
his own experience of new life found through faith in Jesus.
To share the good news of God’s work in our lives
we don’t need words like “hypostatic union” or “transubstantiation”
(as much as I personally love such words)
but words like “God”
and “Jesus”
and “cross”
and “resurrection.”
Indeed, we don’t need stories
of our achievements or good deeds,
but stories of how God
has sustained us in our own neediness.
It is in confessing our own weakness,
our own struggle,
our own need for the grace of faith,
that we bear witness to the power of God.

To give good Pope Francis a final word:
“we are called to be living sources of water
from which others can drink.
At times, this becomes a heavy cross,
but it was from the cross, from his pierced side,
that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water.
Let us not allow ourselves
to be robbed of hope!” (Evangelii Gaudium 86)
And let us also not allow others to be robbed of that hope;
rather, by both our actions and our words,
let us always be ready to give them
an account of the hope that is in us.