A Cautionary Note

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we explored the context of the section of  Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” that follows the Beatitudes of the previous Sunday’s gospel. Today we consider two verses that fall between the Sunday gospel readings: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:11-12)Verses 11-12 (not part of the Sunday gospel) are often called the 9th beatitude because of the opening phrase. But where vv.3-10 describes the good life, these verses bring it into contrast and begin to describe the cost (v.11) and remind the listener that you are simply joining a long tradition. The prophets who earlier proclaimed the kingdom and its demands were also persecuted.

Just as the prophets stood out and apart from “business as usual,” so too will the disciples who have committed themselves to Jesus. Here and in the next few verses the “you” that appears is always plural. The concern here is that the Christian community stand out, appear different, and become an alternative to the larger society. In Matthew’s account, the famous tune, “This Little Light of Mine” would read “This Little Light of Ours.” The community of disciples are called to be collective light and salt.

The salt/light metaphors (and possibly ‘city on the hill’) are only effective signs of the Kingdom to the extent with which the community is willing to use them, to bring them to bear. Salt, no matter how pure and tasty, that is left in the cellar is not much use. A light locked away inside, will not illuminate anything in the world. In part, a goal of discipleship is to be noticed, to stand out, to be more than a curiosity, to be significant; in other words, to be distinctive and to be involved. The dangers of being a community too comfortable, too scared, or too closed off is seen in the Book of Revelation’s letter to the community of Laodicea: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write this: ‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”’”  (Rev 3:14-16)

Image credit: Cosimo Rosselli Sermone della Montagna, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain

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