DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KGS 17:7-16; MT 5:13-16 ]
Yesterday’s gospel was on the Eight Beatitudes. In these beatitudes, Jesus presented to us His vision and blueprint for a blessed life. The values that Jesus advocates contradict the values of the world. He ended by warning that disciples of His who seek to live out the beatitudes will face persecution. (cf Mt 5:11f)
How many of us are willing to stand up for Jesus and live a lifestyle in contradiction to the lifestyle promoted by the world? Most of us are afraid to stand out from the world. We are afraid to be different from the rest of the world because we fear ridicule, marginalization, and persecution. We want to be “normal” like everyone else in the world. This is what the world desires of us. The world does not want us to behave differently from them. The world wants us to endorse and imbibe their worldly lifestyle as normal. They want us to be part of them and one with them.
That is why I always say that secularism is the most insidious enemy of our time. It is subtle in destroying the world and humanity. Secularism is promoted as the way to ensure that there will be peace, harmony, and fairness among all peoples; by ensuring that all religions are treated fairly. If this is the real intention, then of course, we should support it. However, the real intention of secularism is not to promote the freedom of religion but freedom from religion. Secularism in the name of religious harmony bans all religious practices and display of religious symbols in public. It tolerates people with religions doing good works and helping others, provided they do not display their faith symbols and never to talk about their religion. This would be considered proselytization. How is it that we are allowed to talk about food, restaurants, movies, clothes, etc? Shouldn’t such topics also be considered “proselytizing” because they give publicity to some products or services?
For this reason, the Lord reminds us that as His disciples we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to change society and not allow society to change us. This is what salt is supposed to do. Salt is for purification, preservation, and for adding flavor to our food. When we want to purify our food or heal our wounds, we use salt to kill the virus and the germs. If we have a sore throat, we gargle with saltwater and it brings healing. But salt is also used for preservation as well. In those days when there was no refrigerator, most foods were preserved with salt so that they could last a long time. Fish, vegetables, and meat when salted can be kept for ages because no bacteria can survive in them. So as a preservative, it is very effective. Finally, salt gives flavor to our food. It makes our food tasty. Without salt, our food will be so bland and tasteless.
When we apply these characteristics of salt into our life as disciples of our Lord, it means that as salt of the earth, we must act as a catalyst to purify the world of sin and evil. To side with the world is to be salted by the world. Instead, we must seek to purge the world of selfishness, self-centeredness, egoism, greed, promiscuity, and licentiousness. It is not enough to rid the world of evil; we must preserve the world from the degeneration of values. We need to protect our young and those who are naïve and vulnerable from being wrongly influenced and indoctrinated with the false values of the world. We can do this by being positive influencers in the lives of others. Disciples of Christ must make a difference in the lives of others by their love, humble service and living an exemplary Christian life. People must feel that we add value to their life, helping them to live life more fully, meaningfully and joyfully. Otherwise, we cannot call ourselves the salt of the earth.
We must also be the light of the world. Jesus said, “A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. In the same way, your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.” Christians must walk in the light, which is to walk in truth, in integrity, and honesty. We are transparent before others. Only those who do evil and dishonorable things, do so in the dark because they are ashamed of their immoral deeds. As Christians, we are called not just to walk in the light so that others can see our good works and give praise to our Father in heaven, we must also enlighten the world as to what is good, true and right. We must show the way to those walking in darkness, seeking hope, meaning, and purpose in life.
The call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world is not something extra we do as a favour to God. On the contrary, being the salt of the earth and the light of the world is a favour primarily for ourselves and then for others. Jesus asked us, “If salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again?” He also said, “No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house.” The failure to be an influencer in the lives of others, whether as salt or light will ultimately make us lose our saltiness and dim our light. The truth is that when we do not make use of what we have, we will eventually lose them. When we do not exercise our brains, by doing serious thinking, reflection, planning, and writing, eventually our brain cells will die. When we do not exercise our bodies, our muscles become weak and our organs will malfunction. When we do not make use of our talents, we will eventually lose our skills. So by not spreading our faith and living the gospel life, we will become complacent and eventually lose faith in Jesus and live a life of mediocrity.
However, the most tragic consequence of not witnessing to the Lord and living an exemplary Christian life is being absorbed by the world. Either we change the world or the world will change us. There is no neutrality in faith. If we do not say anything or speak out against evil and injustices, then what is wrong and evil will become the norm of the day. So we must consider carefully the consequences of not being witnesses to the gospel life. Indeed, secularism has seeped into the life of our Catholics. Although many might be going to church, their values are that of the world. Nominal Catholics are baptized pagans. It is a matter of time before their faith turns to indifference and hostility against the Church!
So how can we do this if not by witnessing together as a people! Elijah who was not afraid to stand up against King Ahab and the rest of the Israelites for abandoning Yahweh and the Covenant, was in turn blessed and protected by the Lord. We, too, must not be afraid to be different from the world so that the light of Christ can shine in and through us. We cannot evangelize alone because the world will overcome us when we are alone. However, if we go together as a community, then we become a potent force in the world. It is not so easy for the world to put us down if we stand up together in faith. We must support each other in faith and in love. Unless we are united as brothers and sisters, the world will not take us seriously. Many have left the Church not because we have not witnessed to Christ but because we have more nominal Catholics who are counter-witnesses. By their lives, they tell the world that their faith does not make a difference in their lives.
So, we must be like Elijah and the widow at Zarephath who revealed the face of God to each other. The psalmist inquired, “‘What can bring us happiness?’ many say. Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord. You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.” Indeed, Elijah showed the face of God to the widow by providing her abundance of water and food and later bringing her son back to life. God also made use of the widow to show His face to Elijah by providing him with water, food and lodging during the time of drought and famine. It was the faith of the widow who gave all she had to Elijah that inspired him to have faith in God who provided for him. Let us, therefore, continue to salt each other and be the light for each other so that none of us will lose hope.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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