Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You Are The Light Of The World. Let Your Light Shine Before Others, That They May See Your Good Deeds, And Glorify Our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Kings 17:7-16
The brook near where Elijah was hiding ran dry,
because no rain had fallen in the land.
So the LORD said to Elijah:
“Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.
I have designated a widow there to provide for you.”
He left and went to Zarephath.
As he arrived at the entrance of the city,
a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her,
“Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.”
She left to get it, and he called out after her,
“Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives,
I have nothing baked;
there is only a handful of flour in my jar
and a little oil in my jug.
Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks,
to go in and prepare something for myself and my son;
when we have eaten it, we shall die.”
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.
Go and do as you propose.
But first make me a little cake and bring it to me.
Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, says,
‘The jar of flour shall not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”
She left and did as Elijah had said.
She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well;
the jar of flour did not go empty,
nor the jug of oil run dry,
as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
The effects of the drought now even reach Elijah as the stream which provided him with water dries up. But it is not a sign of God withdrawing his providence; rather it is a sign that a new stage in the story is about to unfold.

God tells Elijah now to go to Zarephath of Sidon, a town on the Mediterranean coast between the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (the only Gentile places we are told that Jesus visited during his public life). In effect, Elijah is being told to go to the territory ruled over by Jezebel’s father and thus to the very centre from which the worship of Baal had originated. Elijah must have found it a strange command but he put his trust in the Lord and went. This whole story is about trust in God’s providence and care.

Elijah receives a promise that he will be looked after there not now by birds but by a poor widow, herself on the point of starvation. Moreover, she is a Gentile, in Jewish eyes a pagan. Just one more example of how God’s people were sustained by people they despised and avoided. Elijah, as the bearer of God’s word, was now to be sustained by human hands, but they were the hands of a poor widow facing starvation. She was, moreover, from outside the circle of God’s own people. She was from the pagan nation that at that time (much like Egypt earlier and Babylon later) represented the forces arrayed against God’s people.

Once again, showing his deep trust in God’s care of him, Elijah goes off and, as promised, finds the widow gathering sticks. He asks for a little water to drink and she goes off to get some for him. However, as she is leaving, Elijah also asks for a little bread to eat. Here she demurs.

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she began. Her oath in the name of the Lord was either in deference to Elijah the Israelite or even a recognition of Elijah’s God. She told him that she had only a very small amount of flour in her house and a little oil. She was now gathering firewood to prepare a final meal for herself and her son. After that, with nothing more to eat, they were prepared to face death.

“Do not be afraid,” said Elijah - a phrase that comes up again and again in both the Old and New Testaments and often used by Jesus himself. He tells her to go and make the meal for her son but first to prepare a small cake for him. The widow is asked to give all she has to sustain the bearer of the word of God. The demand to give her all is in essence the demand of the covenant that Israel had broken.

Elijah then cites to her a promise from the Lord: she will not want for flour or oil until the day the rains return. In a marvellous act of trust she agrees. She reminds one of the widow in the Gospel who donated all she had to the Temple treasury. This Gentile woman’s trust is also in strong contrast to the Israelites who had bound themselves by covenant to unconditional and total service of their Lord but had reneged on it so often and were doing so again.

The truth of Elijah’s promise was soon confirmed for the widow. For the jar of meal and jug of oil were never again empty for one whole year. By her act of faith the woman received the promised blessing, while Israel had forsaken the covenant and followed Baal and Asherah in search of prosperity. Now in the midst of a pagan kingdom a widow realises that the trustful obedience to the word of God is the way that leads to life.

God miraculously provided for this non-Israelite who, in an act of faith in the Lord’s word, had laid her life on the line. He gave her “manna” from heaven even while he was withholding food from his unfaithful people in the promised land.

The whole story is a teaching about trusting in God’s care for us. Later, in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus will use the example of this Gentile woman as well as the cure by Elisha of Naaman the leper from Syria as examples of Gentiles having more faith than God’s own people. Jesus was not able to heal many in Nazareth because of their refusal to see in him anyone but one of their neighbours.

This story reminds us too that the secret of life is for everyone to share generously of what they have. When that happens, no one is in want. When everyone gives, everyone gets.
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Psalm 121
Lord, let your face shine on us.
When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
Have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart?
Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood?
Lord, let your face shine on us.
Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one;
the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
Tremble, and sin not;
reflect, upon your beds, in silence.
Lord, let your face shine on us.
O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart,
more than when grain and wine abound.
Lord, let your face shine on us.
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Matthew 5: 13-16
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste,
with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp
and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”
We may be totally filled with the spirit of the Beatitudes but it will not do very much good unless their effects are clearly seen in our lives. To be a Christian it is not enough to be good; we must be seen to be so. It is not enough to ‘have a spirituality’ that fills us with a feeling of peace and tranquillity. The spirituality of the Gospel is essentially outreaching. We have not only to be disciples of Christ but also need to proclaim him.
So Jesus, immediately following the Beatitudes, presents us with a number of images expressing this. “You are the salt of the earth.” Salt is an essential ingredient in almost all cooked food (even sweet food) to provide taste. We all know what it is like to have soup that contains no salt; we know how much part salt plays in flavouring mass-produced fast foods.
We are to be like salt; we are to give taste, zest to our environment. We do that through the specific outlook on life which we have and which we invite others to share. At their best, Christians have been very effective in doing this and have had a great impact on the values of many societies and in bringing about great changes.
To be tasteless salt is to be next to useless. Salt that has lost its taste is only fit to be thrown out. At the same time, in the West we sometimes, too, put some salt on the side of our plate. That salt, however, tasty it may be is still not doing any good unless it is put into the food. And this is an interesting feature of salt, namely, that it blends completely with food and disappears. It cannot be seen, but it can be tasted.
That reminds us that we as Christians, if we are to have the effect of giving taste, must be totally inserted in our societies. We have to resist any temptation, as Christians, to withdraw and separate ourselves from the world. It is a temptation we can easily fall into and there are many places in our cities where the Church is absent nowadays. There is no salt there. In our commercial districts, in our industrial areas, in our entertainment and media centres, where is the visible Christian presence?
Other images used by Jesus today include being the “light of the world” or being a city built on top of a hill. There is no way it can be hidden; it sticks out like a sore thumb. And what is the point of lighting a candle and then covering it over with a tub? You light a candle to give light so that people can see their way and will not fall. To be baptised and to go into virtual hiding is like lighting and then covering up a candle.
Finally, Jesus gives us the reason for making ourselves so visible. It is so that people may see our good works? In order that we can bask in their admiration and wonder? No, but so that they will be led through us to the God who made them, who loves them and wants to lead them to himself.
It is for us today to reflect on how visible our Christian faith is to others both as individuals, as families, as members of a Christian group, as parishioners, as a diocese.
Are there people or places in our area where a Christian witness is for all intents and purposes absent. Can we do anything about that?


Sarah in the tent said...

The widow and her son

Sidon is a coastal city, so it seems strange that a widow and her son are facing starvation there, when the seas teem with fish and the beaches provide food too.

When you were explaining what would have happened to Mary if Joseph had 'put her away', you said she would have had the status of a widow, semi-outcast, living on the edge of the town. This widow seems to be being deliberately ignored by the townspeople. There is plenty of water, fish must be available, but she and her son are dependent on flour and oil and about to die for lack of it. Also, having a son would normally guarantee the protection and status of a widow. Sons were an asset, not a liability (like daughters!) Perhaps this widow shows the fate that Mary might have suffered.

If it is society's fault that the woman and her son are starving, I can think of two possible reasons:

1) Perhaps they are being deliberately deprived of food because they are a source of shame. Maybe the drought is even being blamed on the misbehaviour of people like them, so they should be the first to suffer the consequences.

2) Another possibility is the perennial cause of starvation: it is a failure of the market. Perhaps all the food from the sea can be sold for a high price inland, where the drought has hit people harder. Poor people in the town, such as widows, cannot afford to buy the food on their own doorstep.

These mentalities and mechanisms are very recognizable today.

Sarah in the tent said...

Further to my earlier comment wondering why the widow of Sidon had no fish to eat, I read the following in the Catholic Encyclopedia, discussing Dagon:

'for religious reasons, most of the Syrian peoples abstained from eating fish, a practice that one is naturally inclined to connect with the worship of a fish-god.'