Reading I: Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine that should not have started in the first place, the concern about food crisis has reached a troubling height. Families who struggled to provide a decent meal on their dinner table before the war started now find it even harder to have a regular meal, as the war has caused enormous food shortages and price hikes. This reality is supported with data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, announcing a troubling hike in the prices of world food commodities in 2022 compared to the previous year, which is exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine as well as natural and climate disasters: The world is not only facing a frightening food crisis, but we are also witnessing record-level natural disasters. Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and wildfires are displacing families from their homes, causing a new wave of homelessness as more families are living in temporary shelters. As another season lurks on the horizon, some families are yet to recover from losing their homes in the last time disaster.
It is in this context of food crisis and unprecedented natural disasters that we hear in the First Reading the words of prophet Isaiah calling us to be attentive to one of the fundamental aspects of Christian discipleship: Namely, becoming neighbors to one another, especially to those who are experiencing starvation, malnutrition, and exposure to the adverse effects of natural disasters (58: 7). In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reminds us that “we cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast.”
For this reason, the invitation to live harmoniously with everyone demands that we work towards ending oppression, injustice, and hate speech as the prophet insists (v 9). Taking a proactive stand against the social structures that dehumanize others, and that keep them from reaching their full potential, is the right thing to do as a believer. The outcry of the prophet against hate speech should vibrate deep inside our hearts, calling our attention to the continued demeaning language with which we speak about others because of nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, or disability. These have become easy targets of incendiary words that deny the same praise and compliments that we seek for ourselves. In their 1979 Pastoral Letter on Racism: Brother and Sisters to Us, the bishops write about how our biases manifest in our personal lives and attitudes towards others. This is evident in our language: Do we use stereotypes, slurs, or insensitive jokes regarding the humanity of others? This same observation is reechoed by the bishops in their invitation for a change of heart, away from the toxicity of our words, in their 2018 Pastoral Letter on Racism: Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love. They write, “We urge each person to consider the dignity of others in the face of jokes, conversations, and complaints motivated by racial prejudice.”
Prophet Isaiah calls our attention to God’s concern for the poor and the marginalized as God speaks to us through the prophet a divine exhortation that we should never turn our backs on them (v 7). Furthermore, the prophet reminds us that the glory of God will remain with those who show kindness and generosity to others, as God promises to be present to them at their own times of need just as they were to others (v 9). Also, the reward for their kindness towards others is described as light breaking forth like daylight (v 10).
Notice that the Gospel Reading takes the description of a kindhearted and generous believer a step further by identifying the believer as “the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). Therefore, the mandate given to believers is to allow their light to shine forth before others, which illuminates their good deeds for the world to see (v 16). On this note, our light must shine towards the direction of the poor and marginalized so that through us they can experience God’s offer of love and dignity.
Let us keep in mind that the central message at liturgy this Sunday is that the good we do towards others demonstrates our commitment to the values of the kingdom of God. In the Second Reading for instance, St. Paul exemplifies true commitment to the values of the kingdom of God during his ministry in Corinth. He proclaims Christ to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:2), and his message exhibits the presence of the spirit and the power of God (v 4) so that the faith of the Corinthian Christians may rest on the power of God and not on fleeting human wisdom (v 5). St. Paul judges his ministry as an act of kindness, to the result that Christ became known to the Corinthians because St. Paul allowed his own light of faith.
I want to conclude with the emphatic words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti inviting us to “take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies.” The Christian life is a calling, Pope Francis continues, to “bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment.” Therefore, allow your light to shine forth brightly in the direction of the poor and marginalized so that they can overcome the darkness that has enclosed whatever positive outlook they may have in life.
Ferdinand Okorie, CMF
Vice President and Academic Dean