09.02.2020 — Missional identity and lifestyle

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A – 09th February 2020 — Gospel: Matthew 5,13-16

Missional identity and lifestyle

In today’s Gospel, two images emphasize the missional identity and lifestyle of disciples. While participation in God’s kingdom is blessed, it mandates an alternative way of life that challenges the status quo. This is a costly demand for a minority and marginal community, vulnerable to being overpowered by, or accommodating itself to, the dominant culture. The first image of salt is polyvalent: Sir 39,26 identifies salt as one of the basic necessities of human life. It seasons food in Job 6,6. In Lev 2,13 and Ezek 43,24 salt and sacrifice are linked. Lev 2,13 and Num 18,19 refer to ‘salt of the covenant’. Elisha uses salt to purify drinking water (2Kgs 2,19-23). In Ezra 4,14 sharing salt seems to suggest loyalty. St.Paul recommends to the Colossians: “Let your conversation be always pleasant, seasoned with salt” (Col 4,6).

As salt of the earth, the community of the disciples, not the ruling elite or the synagogue, is to live this flavoring, purifying, sacrificial way of life committed to the world’s well-being and loyalty to God’s purposes. The earth is its sphere of action and the object of its mission. Earth (5,5.18.35; 6,10.19) belongs to God (Ps 24,1; Lev 25,23) but its inhabitants do not do the divine will (6,10); since the devil has usurped authority (4,8). Earth is the place where the disciples live, in the midst of the poor in spirit, the mourning, the powerless, and the hungry and thirsty, dominated and exploited by the ruling elite (5,3-6). It is where the community embodies God’s kingdom in mercy, purity, peacemaking and persecution as it lives its alternative existence (5,7-12). Such engagement brings also its challenges. Salt can cease to be salt. Its saltiness can be lost by being overwhelmed by or mixed with larger quantities of other materials. In the same way, the community of disciples loses its identity as salt when it ceases to live in the world on the basis of God’s reign as described in 5,3-12. Those disciples who comprise are those who render the salt ineffective. They are so unfaithful that no transforming work is done. The world which the disciples seek to save at times also destroys them.

In the fourth gospel, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (8,12). Matthew has already portrayed Jesus as the eschatological light of a darkened Galilee (4,12-17). Now the function of the disciples is to continue enlightening and guiding the morally confused humanity. The Jewish scribes and their disciples were similarly considered to be lights of Israel. Two scenes highlight this mission identity and activity: being a city set on a hill; shining like the light before others. A city cannot be hidden refers to the present or new Jerusalem or Mount Zion to which all people will be drawn (Is 2,2-5). From now onwards – Jesus ensures, that people will no longer look to Jerusalem but to the community of his disciples. With their life based on new principles, i.e., the beatitudes, they will draw the attention of the world. Connected to this theme is the light that shines. Jesus does not want his disciples to limit themselves in proclaiming his word without engaging, compromising themselves and without committing their lives on his word. Presumably light shines as disciples live in the way outlined in 5,3-12 and with the good deeds marked out in 5,21-48. In this way, others see God’s kingdom manifested in their actions. To see does not indicate spectators but those who discern (2,2; 4,16; 13,10-17; 28,1) and encounter (5,8) God’s saving presence. To give glory is to respond with worship of God alone in contrast to devil’s plea for worship (4,9-10). To enable others to give glory to God is the very purpose of the community’s existence (Ch.10; 28,18-20). They should announce the kingdom without fear of being ridiculed or persecuted. It will be for people as a lamp “shining in a dark place until the break of day, when the morning star shines in your hearts” (2 Pet 1,19).