(Ordinary Time - Cycle A)
The Christian community has the mission of being the concrete point of reference for all those who seek and wait for the “good works” “to give glory to the Father who is in heaven”. A limpid and zealous, coherent and radical testimony of justice is the best kerygma that the Christian can proclaim to the world. Through this irradiation of light, men and women will be led to the source of light, which is God himself.
The first reading (Is 58,7-10) is taken from the book of the so-called Trito-Isaiah, an anonymous prophet of the 6th-5th century B.C., whose writings have been included in the scroll of the prophet Isaiah of the eight-century Jerusalem. The text forms part of a more extensive demand that God sets up against his people in the whole chapter about the theme of fasting and Sabbath. Here we find ourselves in the period immediately following the exile. The situation of the country is deplorable: the cities are destroyed, the social and religious institutions have disappeared, those who were deported who returned to the land find their old properties occupied by new settlers; there are internal struggles among the people, the poor are oppressed, and what is more serious, before such a situation the effectiveness of worship and of other religious practices are doubted.
The people complain specifically that God does not see the “fasting” that they make, since they consider it efficacious to please God, so that he would pay attention, so that he would respond. When these results failed, they accused God (Is 58,3). God’s answer goes another way. What failed is not God, but the fasting of the people since it is not authentic. God then defines true fasting, that which he prefers, which consists in works of mercy in favour of the poorest (Is 58,4-7).
If the people mend their ways and change their behaviour, God promises them an almost immediate transformation: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed” (v. 8). God promises to listen to their pleading and to manifest his closeness: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am! (v. 9).
The condition so that Israel will be converted to a luminous people (“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn”) is the daily commitment in favour of justice and acting mercifully with the weaker members of the society: sharing their bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, not turning their back on the more urgent needs of their neighbours, fighting against all types of slavery and renouncing to act and to speak wrongly against others. This is the true fasting, the true worship: mercy and justice.
True worship transforms man. It makes him luminous: “Then light shall rise for you in darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (v. 10). In charity man shines forth because he reveals the glory of God.
The gospel (Mt 5,13-16) reminds us of the exhortation of Jesus to his disciples so that they will be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”. The men and women who accept the gospel of the Kingdom and live according to the spirit of the beatitudes are a ferment of new humanity. They should keep their faith true and make their life shine continually in the world, without falling into cowardice or indifference.
“Salt” makes food acquire its flavour (Job 6,6) and it is also used for its preservation. In some biblical texts, salt has come to mean the permanent value of a contract. It spoke, for example, of “a covenant of salt” or “sealed with salt” (Num 18,19). There existed a saying of Jesus that referred to salt, as Lk 14,34 and Mk 9,50 show. Matthew interprets this word of the Lord to affirm that the believer should preserve and make the reality of each day appear tasty and appetizing before men and women, through fidelity to their covenant with God and the radical living of the beatitudes.
Salt not only prevents the decomposition of food, but it is also used to cauterise or disinfect wounds. The believers should be this unaltered power of transformation and of purification that helps so that humanity will return to its more genuine reality, according to God’s plan.
“Light” makes reality be perceived and so that men and women could orientate themselves and walk without stumbling. Light is the first work of creation, the first creature of God (Gen 1,3). It is the image of life and of salvation that comes from God (Ps 36,10); it is like the garment of God, expression of his dignity and of his saving power (Ps 104,1-2). Light reveals the mystery of God in a particular way: “God is light; in him there is no darkness” (1Jn 1,5). And Jesus will say in the gospel of John: “I am the light of the world; no follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness” (Jn 8,12). For Matthew each believer and each community of faith is light for the world, sign and sacrament of the light and life of God.
However, salt, which gives flavour and preserves food, could lose its flavour. “You are the salt of the earth. But what if salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavour? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Mt 5,13). Light illumines all, but it could be hidden: “Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house” (Mt 5,15). The Christian community should be like this: “In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father” (Mt 5,16).
The good news of the Kingdom cannot remain hidden for fear of being persecuted (Mt 5,11-12) or because of laxness of the disciples, but it should be present in the life of persons and in the structures of society through the life witnessing of the believers: “In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father” (Mt 5,16).
The Christian community is called to be “good works”, that is, to live in an active and responsible way the spirit of the beatitudes, not for vanity or covered up smugness, but “to give praise to the heavenly Father”, that is, to show the power and the goodness of God that act in the life of the persons who abandon themselves to him with trust.