Matthew 5:13-16, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Kuya and I were painfuly, frustratingly shy when we were young. We couldn’t be asked to go to a store to buy something, or to ride a jeep and sit with strangers, or to help out at mom’s botica because we’d have to talk to customers. One Sunday, after Mass, we all swung by Merco on San Pedro St. in Davao to grab some ice cream cones, as we often did on Sundays. That particular Sunday, though, there was nowhere for dad to pull over because the curb was full. So, he asked me and kuya to go and buy ice cream cones to-go. Well, neither of us budged. And dad and mom knew why: because their two sons were painfully, frustratingly shy. So, finally, in a fit of pain and frustration, dad went, “Hirap sa inyong dalawa, pareho kayong mga kimi!” Fast forward—many years after that, over lunch, kuya and I became the subject of conversation, again because of how unreliable we were over errands because “mga kimi!” I remember to this day what my uncle gently said: “Mahiya lang kayo kung masama ang ginagawa ninyo.” That was all he said. But in my head, I heard the continuation of what he said, na huwag kaming mahihiya kung kabutihan ang aming ginagawa.
What Jesus tells his disciples seems to me quite comparable to Uncle Will’s wise words. “You are salt of the earth!” Jesus says, “so, conduct yourselves as salt. Season people’s lives made tasteless by poverty and sickness. You are light of the world! Brighten and warm people’s hearts by telling them about a good news God, not the bad news God.” In other words, don’t just sit on the cupboard, or stay under a bushel basket. Don’t just be “mga kimi”!
To be fair to the disciples, there was good reason for their diffidence, or even fear, in repeating to others what Jesus taught them and doing to others what Jesus did. If you remember, Jesus even gave them the authority to drive out demons, cure the sick, and preach the Reign of God. That was a big give. Well, doing any of that meant flouting religious/moral law! No self-respecting, God-fearing Jew had anything to do with the sick, the maimed, the demon-possessed; or spoke with them, touched them, or let oneself be touched by them. But to be salt of the earth and light of the world the way Jesus meant it, it meant moving up close and being personal with people whom the law precisely commanded to avoid like the corona virus! Salting the earth and lighting the world Jesus style? That was seducing public scandal, risking temple purity, and flirting with the devil. Better to sit on the cupboard than be up close, or hide under a basket than be personal.
A close friend of mine who oversaw disaster relief one time told me a story. In the thick of things, they received a call from a lady. She said, and I paraphrase: “Hello? Our neighborhood would like to donate relief. We have some clothes here.” The volunteer said, “Oh, okay po, Ma’am. Thank you po. You can bring your donations over any time po.” Then the lady said, “Uhmm, you see, we’re village people. So, maybe you could send someone to come over and pick up our donations, go from house to house?” (I chuckled when my friend told me the story because I could hear the lady’s voice in my head, bizarrely backgrounded by the song, YMCA.) Anyway, my friend wondered why the “village people” didn’t quite get the drift that making the effort to get out there and show up at the nearby and accessible relief center, was truly part, if not the whole point, of helping. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity, in other words, to jump off the safe cupboard, or crawl out of the homey bushel basket, for a very worthy cause: to help the suffering, real time.
“When I came to you, proclaiming the mystery of God,” Paul says today, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom…. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling. My message and proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power.” Up close and personal. “Share your bread with the hungry, says the Lord,” Isaiah says. “Shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” Up close and personal.
Just as salt turns into seasoning when it touches bland food, and light turns into illumination when it dispels darkness, it is when we bring ourselves towards the poor, in contact with them, in relationship and friendship with them—because their lives could be much richer and their futures, much brighter—it is then that we turn from being merely village people to being the God’s People. It is then that we grow from being just “Roman-Catholics” to being Friends of Christ.
*Image from the Internet, courtesy of CNN Philippines