Several years ago, I moved into a rectory in Philadelphia. In every room, there was a curled pipe or more coming out of the walls configured to become a lamp. In the 19th century, these lamps were used to light the house by gas. It was only in the beginning of the 1900’s that electricity came to the city and its houses. I bring it up because we take light and seeing for granted. For centuries, and even now in some parts of the world, light is only something they have for half a day. The light of a fireplace or a candle or an oil lamp is certainly not the convenience we have today. “You are the light of the world” put into the context of Jesus time takes some thinking. Imagine walking or being outside with only the moon or stars to see around us. How crippled were we with our last power outage? Yet in Jesus’ time, a far off fire or lamp would be all they could see. The light that his followers were meant to be was one that penetrated the darkness and ultimately gave hope or showed the way. We take it so much for granted, but light is essential.
Also, for salt. In biblical times, salt did a lot more than season food. In fact, they also used it to preserve food in an age when of course there was no refrigeration. No only that, but it was used in making the fuel that they used in their ovens to cook the food. Only when it was used up and lost it usefulness was it thrown away and trod underfoot. It was another everyday necessity that Jesus used that for us is simply another spice we get at the grocery store. But really, again Jesus chose something at the root of his time, saying that we are at the root of our time.
Being essential and at the root of our time is not easy. To dispel darkness, to witness is no easier today than in past centuries. Humanity at times listens and at other times goes its own way. However, as Christians the Holy Spirit has come to each of us and has made it possible for love to embolden and enable us to move forward. That love enables the reaching out to those who are poor, hungry or in some other dire need. For us the spirit calls to do what we can for those who can not always do for themselves.
Today, we hear the beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the mount. We must be careful of how we consider the beatitudes. Sometimes people look at them almost as rules or a set of commandments Jesus is giving. Some how they say Jesus is condemning wealth, etc. However, Jesus is expressing how we are blessed to be seeking out God. Just look at the first one, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Those would be those who know and reach out to fill up their lives by coming to know God and what is the real fulfillment in life. Blessedness comes not from worldly fulfillment, but from our inner self, our soul reaching out and being filled up by the love of God. More typically, those seeking God and his love are often times the real poor, the people on the fringes of life and society, the neglected, the humble, the persecuted, the outsider. Those who have found comfort in life and action, have either found God or replaced him with “things”. Those blessed to live a life challenged by love and seeking God in all stages will in one way or another be comforted or find the kingdom of heaven. Living in poverty, seeking meekness, mourning, and the other blessings of the beatitudes are not
rules for living but blessings bestowed to prepare us to hear the good news Jesus will give in his preaching to come. His message is for all, but first a person must be ready in one way or another to be disposed to hear and live the word Jesus speaks. In Jesus time, society was divided in so many ways, it is hard to realize what all those divisions meant in learning the Good News. Jesus spoke mostly to Jews, but there were priests, pharisees, elders, and all kind of people plus Romans, slaves or other visitors from the Roman world. Ultimately, Jesus knew that not all were ready and he would die. He knew that some would hear and believe and his good news would carry on. But the beatitudes remain to remind us of the disposition we need to hear and follow the Word of Jesus.
In the gospel today, Jesus learns John the Baptist has been imprisoned and goes from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee to live. From now on he starts to preach, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” With John in prison and with him soon to be executed, his mission was finished and Jesus began his. But, unlike John, who was the stark figure living in the wilderness and luring crowds out to him, Jesus was in Capernaum and we see he started by looking for some followers, some men like-minded and ready to band together. This was not an unusual thing in that place or time as Mediterranean culture is family and relationship oriented. What stood out most likely was the power and magnetism of Jesus to attract followers. Ultimately, his message and his power and healing made him to become known with crowds coming to see him.
But lets step aside a moment and think, what drew the apostles to him and what kept that bond. It is clear that it was not a one time permanent thing, as we know that along the way they had doubts and failings in their relationship, even to running away and denying knowing Jesus. Even Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit led to complete and total uniformity and agreement among them. With their beliefs, backgrounds, their prejudices, their own relationship with Jesus, they had to learn to get along even when Christ was with them, and most importantly when He was gone. Those who have followed the Apostles have the same flaws and problems as the Apostles had. One thing has kept the church going, and Paul
alludes to it in the second reading. What he says is we belong to Christ. We are not disciples of anyone else, we belong to him. Are we reformers or traditionalists, or conservative or liberal, or in one school or another, and were we baptized into any of them?
Each of us has experienced God as he came into our lives. Our relationship is personal as is any other relationship we have. That relationship with God is centered on Jesus and how we relate to him. We hear his call and message and work to live it out as best we can. Like the Apostles we need to interact and work it out by trial and error. Error yes, because no one is perfect and we all fall short of perfection, some more, some less. The Apostles were not unlike us, although probably less educated than us. They were simple men, but then centered on Jesus. His mercy and love did the rest and will for us also.
Today’s readings are very much a continuation of the Feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. In the early centuries, those two feasts were seen in the gentile world as the beginning or manifestation of Christ becoming human and taking on redemption. Isaiah talks of the servant as the light to the nations for salvation to reach to the ends of the world. John’s gospel has no account of Jesus’ baptism, but as we heard it has his testimony as to who Jesus is. “Lamb of God” is a familiar term to us as we say it every Sunday. To the Jews, it was an animal sacrificed to God in the temple. Yet, if we look at the Aramaic word(spoken by Jesus and his peers), ‘tayla’, The word is rendered lamb, but also is rendered as slave or also as servant. Most likely John probably was alluding to both meanings, Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, but also as the servant of God. Certainly, Jesus’ suffering and death were a central part of salvation, the whole of salvation was his acceptance of servant hood to become human and be obedient to God the Father in carrying out all that entailed. In doing this he extended God’s love to creation in a way that salvation became open to those who can find and accept God’s love. Christ’s life, death and resurrection overcame the sin of the world, but now humanity must learn to accept their weakness and reach out and share God’s love and receive His mercy and forgiveness as they individually journey to the Father. All those we touch with love, are in some way enriched with God’s love. That is one reason that as Christians we should always be on guard to look out and care about and for our brothers and sisters wherever we encounter them. It is always the little things that people remember and see and are drawn to when they meet Christ’s love. His spirit and love are given to us in the first Sacraments we get, and in the Eucharist we receive each week. Let us joyfully share that love.