Sunday, Feb. 5
Is 58:7-10; Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16
The Sermon on the Mount might be a good sermon but it is a lousy homily. No stories, no jokes. Instead, we hear the Sermon on the Mount in the coming Sundays list some do’s and mostly don’ts. Do not murder, do not get angry, do not commit adultery, do not even lust. Do not retaliate, hate, curse, take oaths, brag, preen, worry, or backbite. The Sermon on the Mount is no more a homily than the Ten Commandments.
The Sermon makes no mention of the cross and resurrection, no hint that suffering and death makes manifest the glory of God. It does not lead to communion and mission. Except for the “pray in your room” part, you do not have to be a believer to nod your head. You could be a suit at a corporate conference on ethics.
What redeems the Sermon on the Mount is the verse we hear today: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14).
What a claim! Jesus states “you are the light of the world” as a blunt fact like “the sun shines.” Like the shining sun, we are all that stands between the world and darkness.
When the civil rights movement came to Birmingham in April 1963, a coalition unusual for the Deep South formed. Eight Protestant and Catholic clergy who normally at best had nothing to do with each other published a “Letter for Unity” in the Birmingham newspaper. They said that the nonviolent demonstrations against segregation were unwise, untimely, and divisive.
In response, Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail www.letterfromjail.com. “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” He continued, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He chided the clergy that their concern against the demonstrations did not extend to the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. He longed to hear white religious leaders declare to their flocks, “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother,” but he had heard only silence.
Bishop Joseph Durlick, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mobile-Birmingham and one of the eight signers of the Letter for Unity, took to heart the words of Rev. King. Becoming bishop of Nashville, he played an active role in the 1968 strike of black sanitation workers in Memphis. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Durick held a memorial service for the slain civil rights leader and took part in a tense march through downtown Memphis. For his efforts, he was called a heretic and a communist.
“This Little Light of Mine” was an anthem of the civil rights movement. I suspect that Bishop Durlick knew the song and may have even sung it. The song, though, stands in need of two corrections.
First, Jesus addressed his disciples as a group, “Your light must shine” is in the second person plural, as in “You all must shine.” Like the Lite-Brite toy, many lights shining as one makes a beautiful picture for all to see. One body in Christ, we are one light shining in a dim world.
Second, Jesus did not say, “Let it shine,” as in the song. Same as “take and eat” and “take and drink,” he gave a command. “Your light must shine before others.”
Why must our light shine? “That they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” The Sermon on the Mount with its do’s and don’ts spells out the good deeds we must do that will draw others, like moths to a flame, to the Lord, the light of life.
Before electricity, it took one day of work to produce ten minutes of light, a week of work for one hour of artificial light. Growing an olive tree, harvesting its olives, milling the olives, gathering and straining the oil took great effort and time. No household would let that precious oil lamp flicker under a basket. The effort and sacrifice to make that tiny flame was worth it, for it drove the darkness from the home.
“Just so, your light must shine before others, SO THAT they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16).
To take to prayer: Whose light has drawn you to follow the Lord?
Father David Scotchie is a priest of the Diocese of Orlando. He is the pastor of Nativity Catholic Church in Longwood.
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