5th Sunday year A
Sunday 5th February 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Having offered his disciples the vision of the Beatitudes, Jesus went on: You are the salt of the earth. You enhance the flavour of people’s lives. You preserve the goodness you see around you. If salt has lost its power, it is useless, fit only to be thrown in the garbage.
You are light for the world, a beacon like a city on a hill. No one goes to the trouble of lighting a lamp to hide it under a basket. Rather they put it up high on the lampstand so that everyone in the house can see what they are doing.
Similarly, your good works should so radiate that you will guide others and inspire them to praise God.
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
God is light in darkness
generous, merciful and just.
God inspires the good to show compassion and to lend
God’s honour will shine through their lives.
Acting justly gives strength and purpose to the heart.
People long remember justice shown to them.
The just person does not fear bad news.
They know that God will be their firm support.
Because their heart is steadfast, fear does not intimidate them,
so they can be generous with the poor,
just in their dealings.
God’s glory will be their integrity.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you come to us in the most ordinary experiences of life. Inspired by your Spirit may our lives witness to the richness of your love revealed in Jesus. May our way of living flavour to the lives of those around us and may our loving be a guide for their hearts. We ask this in the name of Jesus our brother, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The brilliance of Jesus’ teaching was that it aligned so closely with the personal experience of his hearers. When he spoke about salt, light, the city on the hill, it would not have been the allusions to these in the Hebrew Testament that would have first sprung to mind but rather the resonances with their own lives.
Salt had a variety of uses in the ancient world. It flavoured food, as we well know, but it was also a preservative of foods. Its cleansing properties were used medicinally. As well, it was one of the gifts offered in the temple to God with its whiteness being a symbol of purity.
The light in a Jewish household was not the dramatic, all encompassing light of our experience that turns night into day. Rather it was a clay dish rather like a gravy boat. In this oil was poured with the wick floating on top. As lighting was a more involved process than with matches, the lamp was kept alight continuously and when light wasn’t needed the lamp was put under a bushel, both to preserve the oil and as a safety measure.
‘The city built on a hill’ was probably an allusion to Mt Zion on which the city of Jerusalem was built. It was to this city that the people would have come to worship at the temple. Travelling to the city would not have been easy and when it came into view, the sight must have lifted the hearts of the travellers.
Faith is not to be something remote from our experience but rather woven into the weft and warp of daily experience.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Having given the disciples the glorious goal of faith in the Beatitudes, Jesus immediately goes on to situate where their faith is to be lived – in the earthiness and worldliness of human existence. Living by faith, the lives of the disciples will influence others in the way salt and light enhance human existence.
Salt and light are not things that we want by themselves. The purpose of salt is to make something else flavoursome. Even when one needs salt replacement, it is usually consumed in a way that hides its taste. The purpose of light is to make things visible. We don’t sit looking directly at a light, even a dim one for too long. Besides being boring, it can ruin our vision. In fact, we really only notice salt and light when there is too much or too little. The purpose of both is to make something else more attractive. We enjoy properly flavoured food. With good light we can see what we are doing.
Our faith is not meant to be something that takes us away from the reality of life. Like salt, it is meant to enhance life. For example, it deepens our relationships. Consider the experience of marriage. In ordinary human existence, marriage is seen as a precious and beautiful relationship between two people. With our faith, we understand that Christ enters into this relationship, making each person a sacrament of God’s life and love to the other. Does this take away the problems and challenges of marriage – not at all – but it does give a strength and vision to see those challenges within the presence of God.
Faith turns ordinary life into something special, not by making us religious fanatics following many rules and regulations, rather it reveals the presence of God within our daily life.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
One of my sisters worked in the Kimberley region for a number of years. One of her pleasures was the lively pub discussions that took place with the local characters. Towards the end of one such discussion, her sparring partner countered her vigorously with, “Look, I realise that religion is important but you shouldn’t let it dominate your life.” …Er, well, that was just the point, it should dominate one’s life. But how it should dominate our lives is something to which we should give very careful thought.
We all know people who have made Christianity, dull, boring and even deadly, even without firing a shot In the 19th century the writer A. C. Swinburne complained: “Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from Thy breath.” Sadly, people who use religion to suck the joy and vitality out of life still exist. Even worse are those who use religion to despise and criticise others.
The image of salt gives us a good way to consider just what our faith should do to our lives. Firstly, salt enhances the flavour of what we eat but if we have too much, it is not only unhealthy but it makes the food inedible. A good cook knows just how much salt to use to enhance the flavour of a dish while not allowing the salt to be tasted. A good Christian should know just what they need in the way of faith practices to keep vibrant their relationship with God, without drawing attention to themselves. Salt also preserved and cleansed. All of us encounter sin and suffering in our daily life. Our faith preserves us in the ways of goodness and joy in the midst of difficulties and challenges.
As we live a balanced faith-filled life, we will become attractive to people. Even without our knowing it, we will be lights offering guidance to their lives.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
It is quite difficult to find art works that depict salt and light in daily life because they are so ordinary.
– This is a painting of The Last Supper based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s fresco and done by his pupil and collaborator Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, called Giampietrino. Notice Judas, third from Jesus’ right has spilt the salt in front of him.
– The City on the Hill by Craig Irwin.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Salt, light, the city at the end of a journey are examples from ordinary life that Jesus used to teach what faith was like. Can you think of things from your daily experience that you would use if you wanted to describe your faith? To start you off, I have heard the Holy Spirit described as being like electricity – you don’t see it, except in its effects. What ordinary things are symbols of faith for you?
Mull on what gives joy to your life. Can you see the love of God coming to you through this joy?
Mull on the times that you give joy to others. Can you recognise that God is working through you?
Who are the people who have guided you in your life? Mull on the power of their goodness and thank God for the gift that they have been to you.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Jesus wants us to live in the fullness of his light and love. When we do this we are salt and light to others. Ask Jesus to show you where you are already being salt and light to others.
Find those places in your heart which you don’t feel are fully alive. Ask Jesus what is needed to enliven them. Do you need a sharp salt to bring out the flavour? Do you need guidance to change your ways?
Imagine yourself filled with the light and love of God. What would your personal characteristics be like and how could they draw others to praise God.
Rest in the love of your God.