Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Actions on Behalf of Justice”
- Isaiah 58: 7-10. Do not turn your back on your own; share your bread with the hungry. Then light shall rise for you in the darkness.
- 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5. Paul came among you in weakness and fear but also with the convincing power of the Spirit. Your faith rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
- Matthew 5: 13-16. You are the salt of the earth… the light of the world. Let your light shine before others so that they may give praise to your heavenly Father.
Thoughts for your consideration:
In 1971 the World Synod of Catholic Bishops published a document called “Justice in the World”. Paragraph six of this document offers a powerful statement which for me sums up the three lectionary readings for this Sunday.
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.
In the first and third reading both Isaiah and Jesus tell us that our actions in pursuit of justice will be the beacon that shines on the rest of humanity. This week’s Gospel parable of salt and light comes on the heels of the beatitudes that we heard last week. Our light will shine when we exhibit the actions of being peacemakers and promoters of justice and righteousness. In the first reading Isaiah ties it all together in a very clear and unambiguous way:
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.
This week’s readings along with the consistent social teachings of the Catholic Church remind us that social justice is not merely a nice thing to do. It is as the Bishops tell us, “A constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel”. Some have argued in the past that social justice may be important but that it takes a second place to the higher virtue of personal charity. In the 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” Pope Benedict XVI effectively responded to this argument by saying that social justice is in fact the “institutional path of charity” and “every Christian is called to practice this charity”. It is important to know that during the time of Isaiah and Jesus the concept of individualism did not exist as it does today. People very much identified themselves not only as a person but as part of a community. Charity was never understood as merely a personal action but a systemic action as well. Jesus did not offer a personal message of salvation but a social vision under the theological rubric of the Kingdom of God. Jesus uses the metaphor of salt and light to inform us that our actions towards justice and peace are not meant for our own personal edification or individual salvation but for the transformation of society. Our good deeds and actions will be an agent of conversion towards the common good and that will slowly build a society based on this principle.
In the second reading Paul points out that the Gospel wisdom is not offered in eloquent words or in wise ideologies. Again they are based on actions of the Spirit. These actions are centered on an ethic of compassion that Paul offers through his sharing of the mystery of Christ crucified. The power of God is demonstrated through the suffering servant who challenged the social injustice of his day through actions of mercy, healing and forgiving justice. Society rewarded this counter cultural behavior with suffering and the cross but God responded back with power and eternal life. These are the actions that Paul testifies to and demonstrates in his preaching of the Gospel. His lives and preaches by example.