In this beautiful homily for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly tells us that we are now the light of the world, bringing light to where there was darkness.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Sirach 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
Second Reading: First Corinthians 2:6-10
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37 or 5:20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
As you know, we are still in the Sermon on the Mount.
Last week, we read from the Sermon on the Mount and it’s that part that Jesus says that, “You are the light of the world.” Very dramatic, especially to the people he was talking to, because the people he was talking to were not very exceptional – just ordinary people gathered together on that hillock on that fateful day when Jesus told them, not what they should be but what they are, not whether they were going to heaven but what they were to be here and now in the world in which we live. And so it was that he said, “You are the light of the world.”
St John says one day Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And if we put the two together, of course, what we have is Jesus is saying, “I am with you. Together we bring new light and brightness and hope and all the things that have been hungered for down through the ages. I will not do it alone. I will do it with you.”
And so, every moment of your lives, without you realising it, whether you’re asleep, awake, eating, enjoying yourself, weeping, whatever it is, you continue to be one with the light of the world, and the light belongs to Jesus who has decided to become, not one of us, but responsible for all of us.
What follows then this week, of course, is what does that mean?
The first quote is Jesus says to his disciples,
“unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What does he mean?
Well, righteousness means, in the Old Testament, those who follow the covenant that God established with his people. And they followed the covenant and they followed the law and this was what made them righteous. Righteousness means they would be right with God, they would be right with their brothers and sisters, and they would be right with the whole world. It does not mean that everything they said and did was right. It just meant that this was the way that the Old Testament would prepare for the new.
What happens now, though, is something quite different. Jesus knows and understands that salvation in the Old Testament came from the covenant that God had given to His people: the covenant of understanding, the covenant of knowing they were very, very special. But it also meant that they were to work out this covenant according to the way that they would follow, and what they were going to follow was the law. The law was not just the Ten Commandments, but the whole Old Testament, from the beginning to the end. It was the way of the law. It would be the way of healing and the way of salvation.
What Jesus says is something just a little bit different. He says, “You will follow as I do. You will be people who have faith, not a law but faith. And that faith means a faith in me, and a faith in each other, and a faith that will move life forward.”
Now, that’s quite a step. It means that the Old Testament is now being fulfilled and the New Testament is love. Love is the beginning, love is the middle and love is the end.
We follow a person. God sends His only Son, whom He loves, that we might walk with him, hand in hand, through this world. And in putting our faith…
Now, putting your faith doesn’t mean you believe in him. Putting your faith means you give your life to him and you walk with him through the wonderful happy days but also through the dreadful, sorrowful days.
Because to walk with Jesus is to experience, not just the pieces of life you would like to borrow and content yourself with. It means having the courage and the commitment that no matter what comes we’ll be driven, not by rules and regulations, commandments, but basically by being with him will carry us through life. And in carrying us through life, and our faith and love with him, we will change the world. It’s very simple.
Sometimes we make too much of the commandments. The Ten Commandments, basically, were just part of the commandments of God’s law. The Ten Commandments were: Thou shalt not this, thou shalt not that, thou shalt do this, thou shalt honour, thou shalt…
What we have, however, is something quite different. We have Jesus saying: Happy are you who are poor, happy are you who are meek, you shall have the whole world. Happy are you who mourn and hold people’s hands when disaster comes and faces them and you mourn with them and lament with them and you feel their sorrow and you make it your own sorrow. Happy are the peacemakers, those who do not run after trying in one way or another to outdo their neighbour, but to bring people together, from children to adults to frightened old people who wonder if it has all been worth it.
To bring peace, this is the object of God’s becoming man: to restore the peace that God intended for all creation when on that very first day, He said, “Let there be light” and there was light.
And that light is now Jesus, and that light is you and I and all those who walk this world, driving back the darkness, living it and not just preaching it and talking about it and hoping for it, but living it day by day in every way in the small gestures of coming together in love.
The heart of the matter, which we were never told truly, and if you ever ask anybody what is the most important thing from the Bible, they’ll say the Ten Commandments: thou shalt this and thou shalt not…
Jesus says the most important thing is you are the light of the world, because God loves you and cares for you and forgives you and worries about you and will never leave you and will always reach out when you ask Him for His help and, this is the important part, you must learn to love, you must learn to have compassion, you must learn how to forgive.
You must not learn how to make each other reasons for competition. You’re not supposed to run around the world being successful, for the world’s success passes so quickly and it’s like the morning dew before the sun takes it away.
We are asked to do simple things that everyone can do, every day, every moment, and yet these are the things that change the world, and it’s true.
When I recently went home to my sister’s, she had a death in the family, her granddaughter, eighteen years old, died. It was a terrible shock. Everybody thought it was just awful and it was, because death is an inexplicable disaster when it comes for everyone.
And then the priest got up and he said, “Blessed are the meek, blessed are the meek and the humble minded, for God will teach them to understand.”
And then through those very sad days something very important happened. When she died, there were three surgeons present. She had entered the best hospital in the United States, and she was there for three weeks with a stomach ache and great pain, and she died. And all the great doctors, all of them, thirteen, fourteen specialists that helped her through those three weeks, ended up in total failure.
But something else took place. At her funeral, because she was a cheerleader in the school, all the cheerleaders came. Because her brother was a newly appointed policeman in the village, all the policemen came. And all the people who knew my sister Peggy, who was a ballet teacher all those years, they all came.
And, all of a sudden, something wonderful took place, for out of the death of this child, these people came together, broke down all the barriers that existed between them. People, even part of the family who never spoke to each other for many years out of some silly little anger or pain, made up and embraced the gift of this child’s death, because what she had done was to bring them all together in love, in affection.
And they became, for a moment, real people. It didn’t matter what their backgrounds were, what their education was, they were all brought in to this expression of lamentation for the loss of a child, but knowing while they were lamenting that God is moulding them together into one community with great understanding and much more compassion. And that was her gift to them.
And one little old lady who visited the sick all the time, took my sister Peggy aside and she said, “Don’t worry, Mrs Bisceglie, I talked to your granddaughter just a couple of days before she passed away and, out of her pain, which was terrible, she kind of smiled and said, “I think maybe God wants me. He wants me to come, but I will say yes.”
And that is what happened. So when we talk about what God expects of us, He expects us to reach out and care. He expects us to have a feel for each other, not to be locked up in our isolated little lives, not feeling that we have to achieve all kinds of things.
All we have to achieve is to continue to walk with Jesus on this very beautiful, often painful path, and put our faith in what he has put his faith in, which is a Father in heaven who will take care of us, bless us and bring us into immortality as easily as the sun rises in the morning and goes down in the evening.
This is what Jesus came to do: to bring us a light, and he is the light, and give us that light that it might shine on the great and good and wonderful things that a world can give when we become less selfish and totally committed to what we should be.
And that is a light shining in the darkness of the world, driving back the shadows, that people may see clearly and live once again by faith in God and faith in each other.
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This homily was delivered on 13th February 2011.
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