Santa Prassede, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54439 [retrieved February 1, 2023]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Santa_Prassede_-_Mosaic,_Chapel_of_San_Zeno.JPG.
RCL Year A, Epiphany 5
Isaiah 58:1-9a, Psalm 112, I Corinthians 2:1-12, Saint Matthew 5:13-20
The Gospel today begins at the point where the Gospel last Sunday ends. But the teaching is different. Jesus teaches his followers, including us, that they, that we, indeed have something to do. To begin to approach that difference, and to claim it for ourselves, let us look at the First Lesson, Isaiah’s prophecy about what makes for acceptable fasting. You might think that Lent is around the corner, and the Lectionary prepares us for it by taking up this topic.
Isaiah declares, “Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” Jesus addresses this very matter in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday. But for now, it is enough to say that Israel’s fasting produces the strife of quarreling and fighting. To the contrary, Isaiah declares for God, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry”? Fasting is not simply about directing an interior disposition; it is about positively improving the world in which we live.
Jesus teaches a similar distinction and shift in the Gospel today. While the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, and the persecuted for Jesus’ sake are blessed; while their suffering is close to God’s loving and merciful heart, still they have a responsibility and a vocation, a calling, to perform. They are the salt of the earth; they are the light of the world; they are a city on a hill; and they are to let their “light shine before others, so that they may see [their] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.”
You see, their blessed state is not a comfort or blessing that Jesus’ followers are to keep to themselves. Our blessed state is not an entitlement or honor or distinction that we are to preserve, to protect, and to defend as though it were a lofty ideal or a precious jewel. No. By no means. Our blessed state is given to us for a reason and a purpose. Its reality increases and becomes manifest when it is given away. We are to invest it in others; we are to give it away, so that others may be beneficiaries of that blessedness also and that our Father may be glorified. The blessedness that God gives is one of those things that sours when it is hoarded. But when it is shared; when it is given away freely, its light grows and grows until it overcomes the darkness.
There is a way for each of us to allow what we have seen and heard to be shared and to be given away so that the kingdom grows. Our proper concern is to find it. The way forward for each of us lies close at hand. The way is not hidden; it is not hard to find. I dare to say that the way to share the kingdom lies as close to us as the cross lay close to Jesus.
 Isaiah 58:4.
 Isaiah 58:6-7a.
 Saint Matthew 5:16.