On this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the readings lead us to a discussion of wisdom and light.
We begin with the Gospel of Matthew (5:13-16) and the Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s gospel reading is taken. Immediately after proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt of the earth. He wasn’t speaking about that white stuff in a shaker on the table. He was speaking about wisdom. The ancients associated salt with value. Slaves were often purchased for salt. The expression, “He’s not worth his salt,” is based on this. When Jesus speaks about salt, He is speaking about that which gives us value. That which gives us value is that which we have received from God. That is wisdom. This wisdom, this salt, is a new way of life, far different from the values of the world. We refer to this different way of living, this radically different value system, as the way of holiness. Ancient Christians used to refer to their following of Christ as simply, “the way.”
The values of the world, are selfish and egotistical. “Life revolves around me,” the world says. “Take care of number one,” the world teaches. But this pseudo wisdom, this false wisdom, leads only to frustration, abandonment, and the fear, the despair, that one’s life has been useless.
“Look at all this stuff, Father,” the elderly lady said to me. I was a newly ordained priest. I went to visit her in her dream house located in the farm country. The house was loaded with figurines, expensive knick-knacks, and so forth. “I spent my entire life scrapping,” she said to me. “I worked hard. Yes, I took care of my kids, but everything revolved around having enough so that I could someday have all that you see around you. Look at this stuff. Everything here is very expensive. Look, there is a complete set of Hummel figurines. Don’t get me wrong. They are all beautiful. But what I made having them was wrong. I sacrificed what I really needed so that I can have these things that I don’t even want anymore. These things are worth a tun of money, Father. Any of them could be the center piece in a living room. I have all this stuff. And what good has it done for me? It is useless, Father. You be sure you tell your people that. And be sure you know it yourself. Don’t waste your life like I did. My goals in life revolved around my possessions. Only the spiritual matters, Father.”
I really didn’t know what to say. I wanted to console her, but she did have a reputation of being quite a skin flint. Her children and grandchildren loved her, but I think they sensed that they were not her top priority. I told her that she was merely enjoying the fruits of her hard work, but she didn’t want to hear that. She was convinced that she had wasted her life. And she felt deceived. She fell for the lie that happiness can be bought. She fell for the way of the world and realized that she had squandered the better part of her energy seeking a false wisdom.
Perhaps, the lady needed more people around her throughout her life to point out where real wisdom could be found. Sadly, there were people around her who professed faith, but whose lives were identical to hers, people who bought into the great lie and sacrificed their wisdom.
“And if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything.”
We are surrounded by materialism. We can easily sacrifice the wisdom we have been given, the Wisdom of Living for God, to the foolishness of living for ourselves. What are your goals in life? What are my goals?” What are our definitions of “making it.” Do we think that happiness will come with the keys to an expensive car, a huge house, a beautiful boat? Do we buy into the lie of materialism? No matter what we say, no matter how much we speak about Jesus, if our real goals and ideals in life are material, our salt will be flat, our wisdom will be non existent. But if our definition of “making it” is to grow ever closer to the Lord in our lives, to celebrate His Presence in sacrificial love, and for those of you in the sacrament of marriage, to have a family with God as its center, to raise new members of His Kingdom, if this is what you mean by “making it,” then you are very wise.
“He who is unwilling to work should not eat,” St. Paul writes in the third chapter of his Second Letter to the Thessalonians. We need to work hard to care for our families and our loved ones, but it is the caring for others that matters, not the accumulating of possessions.
The wisdom of God, the salt that He gives, leads us to the truth that He is Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and that everything worthwhile in life takes its meaning in relationship to Him. The Truth of Jesus Christ is the wisdom longed for by so many in the world.
“You are the light of the world,” the Lord says. “Your light must shine before others so they can see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” We have a responsibility to others. We have been given the wisdom of God. We have a responsibility to let them experience this wisdom. We need to care for others. People in darkness are looking to the City of God, looking to us, to provide light. “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,” we heard in the first reading from Isaiah (58:7-10). Our light should shine by caring for those who need us. When we perform charitable actions, we are beacons of the Light of Christ that has come into the world. We have a responsibility to let others see this light, and through this light find their way out of darkness and despair and into the way of love and fulfillment, the way of holiness.
All people, everywhere, at all times, long for happiness. We have been given Happiness. Our joy is in the Presence of the Lord. The more of this happiness that we experience, the more of it that we want. Proximity to the Lord leads us to desire an even greater sharing in His Love. This is a blessing. We have been given the life of the Lord. No one has ever died both united to the Lord and frustrated with his or her life. This Truth, this Happiness has been entrusted to us for others. God does not want people to live in despair. He does not want people to live in darkness. He has a beacon of light for them to find their way out of darkness. We are that beacon. We are the light of the world. May we have the courage to allow our light to shine before others so they can see our way of living, our good deeds, and glorify our Heavenly Father.