This Sunday’s reading pairs nicely with our consideration this week of Confirmation, because it talks about real Christian witness – about the witness of a truly Christian life.
This year we are reading Matthew’s Gospel. One of the finest things about the liturgical reform after Vatican II is the restoration of the “orderly” (hence, “ordinary time”) reading through the Gospels. We get to spend the year walking through the brilliance of Matthew. But we still get interrupted sometimes. Unfortunately, last week the fantastic Feast of the Presentation meant we missed the Beatitudes, the opening of Jesus’s preaching, and one of the most important parts of the whole Bible.
(That’s okay. Just memorize it.)
This week we get the passage that immediately follows: “You are the salt of the earth . . . . You are the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount mostly speaks of interior dispositions, especially the Beatitudes. What Jesus most wants is our heart. But it occasionally reminds us—first, and most boldly, in this passage—that our heart expresses itself in our actions. Not salty, not salt: if you don’t walk like a Christian, Jesus says, don’t tell me you have the heart of a Christian.
The heart of our witness is simply to be what we are. Someone who is truly poor in spirit is a fine witness; someone who is not, is not.
Paul’s message for us, from First Corinthians, is equally bold and direct. “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” To be poor, and to live entirely in relation to the Poor Man.
“My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.” Now, we might be tempted, especially if we put too much distance between ourselves and the world of the Bible, to think this means Paul did magic tricks. But in light of what he said about “Christ, and him crucified,” I think the “power of God” goes deeper than mere miracle-magic.
The power of God expresses itself more powerfully in the spirit of the Beatitudes, in a person who lives true poverty of spirit. To know Christ, and him crucified, is to lay down your life in the confidence that God is real, and powerful, and present. God can make us happy even when all else is lost; God can keep us going when our strength has run out. If you believe that, your life will look different. You will be salty like a Christian.
Incidentally, this is also a point very close to Pope Francis’s heart, about evangelization. True evangelization is not based on laser light shows and clever manipulation of pop culture. True evangelization is based on people living like God is real, and thus being willing to follow Christ Crucified.
The point is made most clearly in our reading from Isaiah. “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.” (Or, as Christ says, in the very last words of his preaching, “Amen, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” Matt 25.)
Isaiah puts a nice point on it: “Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry out for help, and he will say, Here I am.”
See the parallelism: if you are there for the least of his brothers, he will be there for you. If not, not.
But we can go a step deeper, in light of our other readings. If you hoard your goods, as if you must supply for yourself, God will leave you to your hoarding: a pretty miserable eternal inheritance. If you pour forth your goods, as if God is your sufficiency, God will be your sufficiency.
This does mean going out to the literal poorest of the poor. There are no saints who ignore the literal power of Jesus’s words about this.
But it also finds expression in those close to home: in our willingness to shelter our neighbors in all the ways that they find themselves vulnerable, even – especially – when it hurts.
Is God your sufficiency? How do you express that?