5 Feb 2017
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice … to let the oppressed go free … Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isa. 58:6-7) In the name …
Last Sunday we read the Eight Beatitudes. They are the first words of Jesus’ first public proclamation and in them Jesus lays out Christianity 101. Today we hear the very next words that make up the Sermon on the Mount and they are Jesus’ encouragement for us to take our Christianity 101 seriously and we show this by sharing it with the world.
Today there is sacred and secular, but back in Jesus’ day and for most of history since then, there was no such distinction. But in Jesus’ time, His understanding of the sacred was not the accepted one; it was not the state religion. And Jesus didn’t argue for it to become so. “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s,” is the distinction Jesus saw. You don’t legislate or use the police to force the sacred on the secular. You use the power of a better example. The sacred infuses the secular not through politics, but through the way believers live. I remember back in the 1960’s. I was in elementary school. I think this memory is for real. I remember seeing a stack of Bibles loaded on a back shelf of a classroom. They weren’t used in class while I was there, but I imagine they may have been in the years prior. A lot of people saw this as the beginning of the end of religion in America.
But no one forbade children from reading the Bible on their own. No police walked into homes forbidding fathers or mothers to share a parable or a miracle story. No one stopped children from going to Sunday School. If kids no longer knew the Bible, it wasn’t the school’s fault. It was the fault of believers. Today’s Gospel is Jesus telling us that it’s no one else’s job to spread the faith beside the people of the faith. Jesus didn’t go to King Herod or to Pilot the Roman governor and tell them to make people believe. You can’t force faith. He laid out in the Beatitudes what Christianity is all about and then He told the ones who believed to go and share.
His first example of this is the familiar one: we are the salt of the earth. Salt is a preservative. The ancient people used salt to help food last longer, to keep food safe. This is why salt is used in the sacrament of Baptism. A pinch of salt is given to the one who wishes to enter the church to symbolize that the grace of baptism is shared to preserve and protect the new Christian from sin and evil. Jesus then warns that if salt loses its taste it is thrown out. It no longer has a purpose. Salt loses its taste when it is diluted. At some point if more and more water is added, you can’t taste the salt any longer.
If we are the salt of the earth, if we as baptized Christians are supposed to preserve and protect our neighbours and our world, and we keep diluting our faith, then we forsake our purpose. If we accept more and more compromises with worldliness so that our faith and church become diluted, then that faith can’t do what it’s supposed to do. The Beatitudes call us out as humble, righteous, pure, merciful and peacemakers. If we don’t live a life that has these virtues in them in some demonstrable form, then we’ve watered down our faith to the point of it not being meaningful any longer.
Jesus isn’t the first to say this. It was said hundreds of years earlier by a prophet scholars call Third Isaiah. Israel is returning home after a long exile. They’re coming back to a destroyed country and an impoverished people. And the prophet shares God’s message with them that faith and worship are not only what happens at an altar. Instead, says God, deal with injustice and oppression and make them right. Don’t bother bragging about a faith that can’t see the hurt in others. Doesn’t worship mean “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” says God? These aren’t additions to faith. These are as much a part of faith as what we do at the altar. I ask you to think about this seriously as today we accept for the last time our donations for the Souper Bowl of Caring. Helping the helpless is not a second thought; it is a full and necessary expression of our worship. We don’t have to do this through the Souper Bowl of Caring, but we have to do it somehow.
Or how about that our faith is supposed to shine like a city built on a hill. I don’t think any of us here have not heard about all of the commotion over the immigration ban that the President ordered a week ago Friday. Immigration is a hot political topic right now, but it’s also a moral one. Catholic Charities, Evangelical Protestant churches and Jewish organizations are some of the groups who have all been working to try and relocate at least some of the world’s refugees here in our country. This wide-ranging group is acting because they see the despair and hardship among these families as moral obligations.
During this immigration debate, we’ve probably seen the signs being carried that remind us that we’re all immigrants here in the United States. Back in 1630, John Winthrop, the leader of Puritans, preached to the others who were coming to this land with him that we would become a “city built on a hill.” He was quoting the exact same words we read as part of today’s Gospel and he was using them to define an entire way of life, not only an occasional Sunday morning. Winthrop used Jesus’ imagery to characterize the colonists' endeavour as being a part of a special pact with God to create a holy community. He encouraged the colonists to "bear one another's burdens", and to view themselves as a "Company of Christ, bound together by Love.” Jesus expected His first followers to be an example of the Beatitudes to those around them, and likewise this country began with the exact same expectation, that we would live our faith so convincingly, like a city on a hill, that we would draw others to join us because of our example.
Christianity is still that kind of a lived faith, every day, every moment. That we may live up to this sacred calling by our examples, by what we do here at church as worship, and also by what we do in our everyday lives as worship, for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo