5th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 58:7–10; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; Matthew 5:13–16
Mike’s dad Jesus said, “Your light must shine before people, so they will see it and praise your Father in heaven.”
AChicago high school student named Mike walked into the office of his counselor. Mike was clearly excited about something. His counselor said, You look pumped up,Mike.
I am pumped up, said Mike. My dad impressed the heck out of me this morning. While I was eating my breakfast, he walked in with his briefcase, put his arm around me and said, “Have a good day at school,Mike.”
Then, for some reason, it dawned on me that he didn’t have to be at work till 9:00. It was only 7:45. “Dad,” I said, “why do you always leave so early for the office? You don’t have to be there till 9:00; it takes only ten minutes to get there.”
My dad said, “You’re right,Mike, but I usually try to catch the 8:00 Mass at Holy Trinity on my way to work.”
That impressed me. It never occurred to me that he went to Mass on weekday mornings. He never mentioned it to me before.
But what impressed me even more was that lately I’d been giving him static about having to go to church on Sunday. He never said to me, “Look,Mike, I go every day. The least you can do is go on Sunday.” He never threw that at me.”
Then Mike smiled and said, Maybe I should go to daily Mass.
It might give me a new outlook on Sunday Mass. That story illustrates beautifully one of the ways a father can carry out the teachings of Jesus.
In verse 19, immediately following today’s gospel reading, Jesus says:
Whoever obeys the Law and teaches others to do the same, will be great in the Kingdom of heaven.
Mike’s father did this. He obeyed the law and, in the process, taught his son to do the same.
Furthermore,Mike’s father taught his son in the best way possible not by word but by action.
And what was so powerful about his action was that he didn’t parade it before his son. He kept it in low profile. That’s what really impressed Mike.
Our actions are a lot like perfume. If we are wearing perfume, we don’t have to tell people about it. That would destroy its charm.
Our actions are the same way. We don’t have to tell people about them. If we did, they would lose their impact. Someone said of our actions, “When we try to impress people with them, that’s exactly the impression we make.”
The story of Mike and his father illustrates what Jesus means in today’s gospel when he says:
You are like light. . . . Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
Jesus isn’t telling us to parade our light before other people. He’s simply telling us that we should be a light to them.
There’s a big difference between parading our light and being a light.
The story of Mike’s father illustrates what that difference is.
He didn’t go to daily Mass to impress anyone. He did it simply as an act of love in response to Jesus, who said to his disciples after the Last Supper, Do this in memory of me. Luke 22:19
Some years ago a high school boy in Chicago told his teacher this story.
He said that the previous Sunday he and his father had attended Mass together in their parish.
After the Mass, the adults were asked to take a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire. The boy said he couldn’t resist peeking over his dad’s shoulder to get a look at what the questions were.
He recalled one question in particular. It asked, “Why do you go to Mass on Sunday?” The boy said he was surprised at how his dad answered that question. His dad wrote: To be a good example to my children.
Commenting on his father’s answer, the boy said, I’m glad my dad wants to be a good example to us kids, but I don’t think that should be his main reason for going to Sunday Mass.
The boy was absolutely right. Let’s take a look at one final example of the difference between parading our light and being a light.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta left a comfortable life in a European cloister to work among the very poor in India.
She didn’t do this to be a good example to other people. She did it in response to Jesus’ instruction “Love one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12
She did it out of love. And it was this love that became “a light for the whole world.” It was this love that moved people so deeply.
Commenting on this point, former British TV star Malcolm Muggeridge said in effect:
I can’t tell you how much I owe to Mother Teresa. She showed me Christianity in action. she showed me love in action. She showed me how the love of one person can start a tidal wave that can spread across the world.
Indeed Mother Teresa is an illustration of what Jesus was talking about when he said:
You are like light for the whole world. . . . Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
Mother Teresa didn’t set out to parade her light before people. She simply set out to love. And in loving, she became “a light for the whole world.”
Let’s close with a prayer from The Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer book of the church. It speaks to the spirit of today’s Scripture readings.
Father, creator of unfailing light, give that same light to those who call to you.
May our lips praise you, our lives proclaim your goodness, our work give you honor, and our voices celebrate you forever. M.L.
Series II 5th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 58:7–10; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; Matthew 5:13–16
Teenage witness Witnessing to our faith means letting it shine forth from us, standing up for it, and being willing to suffer for it.
Ateenage girl named Anne got a summer job working as a maid in a big hotel on Cape Cod. Her job was to clean ten rooms every day.
In the course of the summer, Anne met all kinds of interesting people, including a few celebrities. Of all the people she met, however, one stood out in her mind above all the others. She called him Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith showed up one weekend with a small leather traveling bag. When Anne went to clean his room the next day, he stuck his head out of the door and said, “Forget about cleaning my room. Just give me a couple of clean towels.”
The next two days he did the same thing. It wasn’t until midweek that Mr. Smith allowed Anne to enter and clean. As she did, he talked to her and even helped her make the bed.
On Saturday Anne cleaned her usual ten rooms, including the room of Mr. Smith, with the little leather traveling bag.
After she finished, Anne was walking down the street on her way to 4:30 Mass. Suddenly a car pulled up; it was Mr. Smith. Did she want a ride home? She said she was going to church, and would welcome a ride there.
Once Anne was inside the car, Mr. Smith began bombarding her with questions. How often did she go to church? Why did she go, when lots of teenagers didn’t? How good were the sermons? Did she receive Communion when she went?
When they arrived at the church, Mr. Smith surprised Anne by asking if he might attend Mass with her. She began to feel a little strange about his questions and his interest in the Mass.
She felt even stranger when Mr. Smith knelt down inside the church, shut his eyes, and remained that way the rest of the Mass. When Mass ended, Mr. Smith did something even stranger. He got up and hurried outside the church, without even saying good-bye.
The next day, when Anne went to clean his room, the little leather traveling bag was gone. In its place was a small package with a note. She unfolded the note and read it. It went something like this:
The gift inside this box is for the beautiful thing you’ve done for me, without even knowing it.
My marriage has been rather shaky lately so much so, that I finally told my wife that I was moving out for a few days to think things over. The more I thought, the more confused I got.
Then you came along. Your beautiful faith in God touched me deeply. When I attended Mass with you, it was for the first time in ten years.
During that Mass God gave me an insight into my problem and the desire to stay with my wife.
I’m going home grateful to God and grateful to you for being a shining light in a time when my world was very dark. I will never forget you for helping me rediscover my faith. [signed] Mr. Smith
Inside the package was a gold chain with a beautiful gold cross attached to it. This story is a beautiful illustration of what Jesus means in today’s gospel, when he says to his disciples:
“You are like light for the whole world. . . . [Y]our light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”
This story is also a beautiful illustration of what Jesus means when he says to his disciples, “[Y]ou will be witnesses for me . . . to the ends of the earth.” Acts of the Apostles 1:8
Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus meant when he said that his disciples were to be his witnesses.
We can witness to Jesus in three ways: 1. by letting him shine through us, 2. by implementing his teaching, and 3. by suffering for him or his teaching.
First, consider letting Jesus shine through us, as the teenage girl did in the story.
Amissionary in India tells this story.
One day she was teaching some children about Jesus explaining how he was kind, forgiving, and understanding. Suddenly she noticed one of the children growing more and more excited as she talked. Finally the child blurted out, “I know who you’re talking about. It’s the man who lives down the street from us.” And so the first way we witness to Jesus is simply by letting him shine through us by being kind, forgiving, and understanding.
Second, we witness to Jesus by implementing his teaching when it is ignored or attacked.
We do what today’s first reading says: share our bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked.
We do what Jesus himself would do if he were living on earth today.
This leads to the final way we witness to Jesus. We witness to him when we suffer for him or for the sake of the Gospel.
For example, we give of ourselves and of our resources to spread God’s kingdom on earth.
Or we suffer insults for him or his teaching if that be necessary. In brief, we take seriously Jesus’ words when he says:
“Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you . . . all because of the Son of Man! Be glad when that happens and dance for joy, because a great reward is kept for you in heaven.” Luke 6:22–23 And so today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves to what extent we are witnessing to Jesus. To what extent are we letting him shine through us, implementing his teaching, suffering for him or his teaching?
These are questions that only we can answer.
Let’s close with the Prayer of Saint Francis. It sums up what it means to be a witness:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.
Series III 5th Sunday of the Year Isaiah 58:7–10; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; Matthew 5:13–16
Witness Doing the kind of things Jesus might do.
Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote a delightful and inspiring story about an unusual young man.
Bill was in his final year of college. He was brilliant, a new Christian, and a bit different from other students. His entire wardrobe for four years consisted of a T-shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes.
Across the street from the campus was a very conservative church, attended by well-dressed parishioners.
One Sunday, Bill padded through the front door. Service had already begun; Bill walked slowly down the aisle, searching for a seat. As he neared the front, it became clear that no empty seat was available. So Bill squatted on the floor in front of the pulpit.
This was acceptable decorum in a dorm, but hardly in a conservative church. You could feel the people glare. Even the pastor stopped preaching, wondering what to say or do.
Just then, a deacon in his eighties dressed in a tailored suit and using a cane began to walk from the back of the church down to where Bill was seated on the floor.
All eyes were focused on the deacon. His cane clicked with each slow step.
He was a godly man, silver hair, dignified, courtly, respected by all. How could someone of his age and stature understand a student like Bill?
As the deacon reached the spot where Bill sat, everyone stopped breathing. What he was about to do was a thankless job, but it had to be done. Even the pastor stopped preaching until the deacon completed his task.
Looking down at Bill, the deacon dropped his cane to the floor. Then, with great difficulty, he eased down onto the carpet and sat beside Bill. He wanted to make him feel welcome and not have to worship alone.
When the pastor gained control of himself, he said to the congregation, in a voice choked with emotion.
“What I have prepared to preach to you, you’ll never remember. But what you just saw, you’ll never forget. Based on “Out of the Saltshaker” by Rebecca Manley Pippert, published by Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove, IL. From Bill’s Punch Line
This story fits in beautifully with today’s Gospel where Jesus says:
No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
Someone has pointed out that there are three motives why people do good things such as the deacon did: pleasure, practicality, or pure love. Let’s take a look at each: first, pleasure.
In his famous Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes how Ebenezer Scrooge responds to people after his conversion. Dickens says:
He went to church . . . and patted children on the head and questioned beggars . . . and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He never dreamed . . . that anything . . . could yield him so much happiness.
We’ve felt the same way when we’ve volunteered to help out in prisons, soup kitchens, or in retirement homes.
And so the first motive why people do good things is because it makes them feel good. It brings them pleasure.
The second motive why people do good things is out of practicality. I remember reading that Lyndon Johnson once said, “Love your enemies, because someday you’ll need them as friends.” That is clearly a practical motive.
An example will illustrate further. Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor. When the Nazis came to power, he was reluctant to speak out, at first. When he did, he was arrested and jailed. He said in a famous statement, which was later printed in the United States Congressional Record:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. When they came for the Jews, I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. . . . Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me . . . and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
So the second reason for doing good is practicality: If I want others to help me, I’ve got to help them.
This brings us to the final reason: pure love: the reason the deacon sat on the floor with the college student. He probably got no pleasure out of it, nor was there much Bill could do for him.
He simply did it because it was right. He wanted to make Bill feel welcome and be treated in a loving way.
Television’s Phil Donahue makes an interesting observation about doing good. He notes that people who commit themselves to do good things usually pass through three stages.
First, there is the fun stage. That’s when they say, “I love doing this. Why did I wait so long to get involved?” Next, there’s the intolerant stage. That’s when they say, “Anyone who doesn’t get involved isn’t really a true Christian.”
Finally, there’s the reality stage. That’s when they suddenly realize that their involvement is going to make only a dent in the world’s problems. At this stage, saints are made.
So what motivates people to do good things follows a pattern similar to what Donahue says about commitment.
First, it’s pleasurable. It makes us feel good. Second, it’s practical If we help others, they’ll help us. Finally, it’s out of pure love. It’s why the deacon helped Bill. Let’s close with a prayer attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me
to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.