Isaiah 58: 7-10; I Corinthians 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16
As Paul makes his way through Corinth in the brief section we hear from his letter today, there seems to be a greater sense of humility in his writing. Of all the places Paul conducts missionary work, as we can read in Acts of the Apostles, there’s only one time that it is believed that Paul failed at his work and that’s when he visits Athens. In our language, Corinth would be somewhat of a suburb of Athens and so he has had time to self-reflect and his failings there. In one aspect, Paul was often in over his head in Athens and he tried to be like them rather than being himself. They were certainly known for their intellect and philosophical thought and Paul tried to play their game rather than stick with what he knows and he believes he has failed; failed because he tried to be someone other than himself.
So as he writes to Corinth in these letters and addresses the many issues they encounter with this ongoing dialogue, he can understand, now with greater understanding and clarity, the dilemma they face. Because of their lower status in society they too wanted to be Athens. They saw what life was like in Athens and desired the same power and happiness and money and they thought they could do it by living like what they saw in Athens. In many ways Paul has to allow done to him he will try to show them, that it is about reconciling these parts of himself and to find the true power in Christ crucified. He tells them today that he comes with fear and trembling, in weakness with no persuasive words of wisdom, and yet he does but it comes now from a different place within him; wisdom that comes from the power of God. For Paul and for us it is a call to reconcile the humanity and divinity of who we are, coming through the Christ. You can’t be someone other than yourself. If you are a Corinthian you are a Corinthian and you must first accept that.
You are salt. You are light. You are a city set on a mountain, a church on a hill in our example here. Yet we forget that or don’t want to believe that we are light and we are salt and we start to live out of the trampled ground as Jesus speaks of salt that has lost its taste or we hide or light and live in the darkness, very quickly believing that that’s who we are. We lose sight of who we are and it is a struggle for the disciples and certainly for us in the world we live. So often we want what Athens has and we think we could be Athens but that’s not who God has created us to be. Like Paul, we must be reconciled both human and divine, both light and dark. We could only be who God has made us to be; light, salt, a city set on a mountain.
Long before Jesus the people Israel struggled in the same way. In the first reading from Isaiah they have already moved beyond exile and are back living in the promised land. Yet, the issue faced is that they were beginning to fall back into old habits, moving away from their changed hearts that they experienced in exile and in moving back to their land. They were losing sight of their primary mission, a mission spelled out by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel just prior to today’s reading in the Beatitudes and then finishing up in explicitly sharing that identity with them.
We live it through acts of charity Isaiah tells us; bread to the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners. Now, though, like Paul, we do it from a different place. Out of our own failure and fragile humanity, a power and wisdom comes from within that leads us to do this work in the name of God rather than for ourselves or for anyone else. We do it because of who we are…salt, light, a city set on a mountain. We pray for the humility of Paul today as we approach this altar, mindful of who we truly are, and ask for the grace to be salt and light, and not only will we experience greatness in our own lives but in each of the lives we touch when we do it in the name of Christ crucified, in and through the true power of God.