A reflection on the readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 5, 2023.

Many of us have come across the acronym “AMDG,” and wondered what it meant. These four letters are often inscribed on the walls and over the doors of Jesuit schools, and they used to be written at the top of letters and other documents of the Church. The acronym stands for “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” the Latin motto of the Society of Jesus, meaning, “For the greater glory of God.”

This key notion of Jesuit spirituality revolves around the phrases, “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What more ought I to do for Christ?” The key word in the last question is “more.” What more ought I do for God?  In a sense, this is what the readings of the day focus on, in drawing our attention to our task to glorify God by offering God more of ourselves.

The first reading from Isaiah and the Gospel from Matthew reveal for us what glorifying God means: to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. This becomes possible for us because of Jesus, who in John 17:1, “lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…’” In the last two lines of the Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus tell us, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.” Jesus asked the Father that He may glorify the Father; now He is asking us to do what He himself did in His life.

The Gospel says that to glorify God is to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Jesus is not asking us to become salt and light in the world; He is asking us to be what we already are. He simply says you are—already—the salt. We are already the light. So be the Salt, and be the Light.

What we do with our saltiness matters. What we do with our light matters a lot.

The Gospel talks about losing saltiness. The Greek word moranthe employed by the evangelist here translated as a low-quality salt. Salt that has lost its taste means “to become foolish, imbecilic, or insipid.” Hence, for Christians to lose our saltiness is to become foolish, imbeciles, or insipid in the world.

The Roman writer Cicero described Rome as a “light to the world” (In Catilinam IV 6). Later, the city of Jerusalem was described as the “light of the world.” Now, according to Jesus, the disciples are the light of the world. They must not cover their light “under a bushel basket,” but must set it on a lampstand where the light can shine before all. In this way, the Gospel describes our identity as disciples who bring light and saltiness to the world.

To understand more clearly our mission as disciples in being the salt and light of the world, we should turn again to Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah wanted his nation to shine like a light, which would “break forth like the dawn.” How would Israel fulfill their mission to be light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6)? The Lord tells the people of Israel: “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.” When people take care of the poor of Yahweh, God promises, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.”

To make sure we do not miss his meaning, just a few verses later Isaiah repeats the same idea, “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.” This is how we are to glorify God: by being the salt and light.

We can think of ourselves as righteous and pure.  We can congratulate ourselves that we are people of prayer and goodwill.  We can point to our spiritual practices, our personal piety, and our moral behavior as how we are light for the world.  But God’s glory will not come among us until we seek out the lost and the lonely, until we provide for the hungry and the poor, until we care for the sick and the dying, until we work to lift up the lowly and restore them to the dignity that God intends for them.

To glorify God is not only to talk about going to heaven after we die. It is about God’s will being done on earth before we die. Being salt and light is not about putting pressure on people to be moral and good or correct and orthodox so that they can avoid hell after death, but it is about the possibility of honoring others and healing the earth in this life. Being salt and light does not only require instructing people about how to become good Christians, but about how to live the Kingdom of God in their jobs, neighborhoods, families, schools, and societies between Sundays.

To propagate a narrow vision of Christianity is to exist without saltiness and cover the light under the bushel. It can involve violence in the name of Christianity, or portray Jesus as a warrior Christ for a nation. This glorifies an ideology, not God. When we participate in creating policies with hidden agendas of hurting the most vulnerable in society, we cannot be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

“Be merciful as God is merciful,” Jesus reminds us.  “Hunger and thirst after righteousness.”  “Seek justice and pursue peace.” These are the way to be the salt of the earth and light of the world and to glorify God with our lives.

Image Credit: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province.  Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.

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