A reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Since the Feast of the Epiphany, our liturgical motif has been light and darkness. This Sunday, the word Light appears ten times in the readings – fourteen if you count the times we repeat “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright,” in the Responsorial Psalm.
What caught my attention in that verse, besides the recurrent light and darkness theme, were the words “the just man” and “the upright.” What’s the difference? Isn’t a just man an upright man and vice versa? This verse from Psalm 112 presents these synonymous terms as different individuals where the former (just man) acts as a beacon of hope and a model or guide to the latter (the upright). Such is the relationship between Jesus Christ and his disciple. We hear this same idea confirmed in the Gospel Acclamation:
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
Upon hearing these words, we might overlook Christ’s important message for us. We get the part where He says that He is the light, but do we catch the part that follows where He suggests that we too are called to be that light for others?
Christ declares it unequivocally at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in today’s Gospel reading: “You are the light of the world!”
In other words, you have to shine the way Christ shines. The Christian who does not imitate Christ is like flavorless salt or a candle hidden under a basket, not fulfilling its purpose.
The Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading makes use of the light analogy twice to make it clear what being a Christ’s follower entails:
Thus says the LORD:
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday. (Isa 58:7-10)
In other words, people will know you are Christ’s follower by the way you show your love for others (John 13:35).
The only reading in this week’s liturgy where the word light is not mentioned is the Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul lived Christ’s teaching to the hilt. He blatantly instructed us to be imitators of himself as he is an imitator of Christ. In today’s Second Reading, he puts the spotlight on Christ, when he proclaims:
“When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
Everything Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount, and throughout his life, He affirmed by dying on the cross. His instruction that we must imitate His example as a sign for others was consistent from the Sermon on the Mount, where He said, “You are the light of the world,” until the night before He died when He washed his Apostle’s feet and told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
This week’s readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time wrap up the “light and dark” theme that has been recurring in the liturgy since the Feast of the Epiphany. Through the liturgical readings we’ve learned of Israel’s mission to be a “Light to the Nations,” so that other nations could imitate them and worship the one, true God also, but Israel miserably failed in fulfilling that mission. So, God sent his only Son into the world to fulfill that mission and show us all the way back to the Father. Now, that mission has been handed on to YOU. Christ personally invites YOU to be that light when he declares, “You are the light of the world.” Now YOU are “the just man, the just woman, a light in darkness to the upright.”
On another note, Christ also says you are the salt of the earth and asks, rhetorically, “What if salt loses its flavor?” Is that even possible? If that’s what you’re wondering, I have the answer for you in another article I wrote here: How Can Salt Lose Its Flavor?