5th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 58:7-10; Ps. 111:4-5,6-7, 8a, 9. 1 Cor.2:1-5; Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16.
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 9 February 2020
There is a story of David and Maria, who were poor and had to work very hard to provide for their son, Jack’s education. Through their hardship and toil, David managed to earn enough money to send Jack to school. Jack excelled in his studies and eventually was able to study in one of the top universities in Europe. Jack returned, became very successful in his career and got married.
However, sadly, as Jack became very successful, he had forgotten how much his parents had loved him and sacrificed for him. He became ashamed of his parents’ poverty. He rarely contacted them, and did not even provide for them financially. David and Maria, being deeply saddened, continued to live their lives in obscurity and in poverty. Over time, Jack lost contact with his parents, and continued to live his jet-set and high-flying life. David and Maria in their old aged finally died in poverty; unknown even to Jack.
When David and Maria each died, they were each personally met at the gates of heaven by Jesus Himself, who welcomed them. As they entered through the gates, all the saints gathered and rejoiced at their coming, and they were shown the grandeur and glory of heaven. Both David and Maria were very surprised and asked Jesus, “Lord, we were poor and unknown on earth, we do not deserve such glorious welcome?”
Jesus replied, David and Maria, whatever you did on earth was done with great love, sincerity and humility; no one knew how you lived, but everyone here in heaven knew how you lived. We all knew that when your son Jack disowned you as he was ashamed of you, you were deeply saddened, but you forgave him, without any anger and bitterness.
You continued to love him and prayed for him throughout your life. We also knew that when both of you won the $10m lottery, you donated everything to the poor and needy, as “anonymous donors” so that nobody would know. However, in heaven, all of us knew what was happening, and we were moved to tears. Thousands of our brothers and sisters who were suffering so much, benefited from your great generosity and compassion. Many of them who are here with us, also want to welcome and thank you. None of your compassionate love for them had gone to waste and you continued to live in simplicity and obscurity. All the temptations of luxury of the world did not distract and did not divide your love for Me, as Your Saviour. In fact, the lottery win made you both live an even more selfless life of holiness, in your love and care for the poor and needy.
You would be happy to know that your son Jack eventually found out what happened, and in his deep sorrow and contrition, he experienced a deep conversion of heart. Your prayers have eventually borne fruit. Now, Jack and his wife have both given up their materialistic lifestyles, and are dedicating their lives in the service of the poor and needy, as you have shown them. Most important of all, they are now both living their faith very fervently, and as a couple growing in the holiness of their family vocation, through the challenges they face. And, they have never been more fulfilled, at peace and happy in their lives.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, David and Maria in our story in many ways are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” that Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaims to us. How are David and Maria the “salt” and “light”? Let us first note that the purpose of the existence of “salt” is first, not so much as to add taste to food. Actually, the salt draws out the “best” of the taste that is already present in the food. The second purpose of “salt” is to protect the food from turning bad. And, as for the “light”, its function and purpose is to shine when it is dark. It does not need to shine, when there is brightness around and when everything is clear. But, when there is darkness, the light can then expose and show the true colours and nature of things and people that are hidden in the darkness. We can see why Jesus wants you and I to be His “light and salt” in our world today.
As for David and Maria we can see that they were being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” to Jack their son. They did their very best as parents to bring up and bring out the “best” that they believe their son Jack has. They believed not only in his capacity to excel in his studies, but his capacity to love through the goodness of his heart that God has given him. However, we know that when Jack excelled and became very successful, the temptations of the secular world darkened his mind and poisoned his heart. As such, Jack lost his “saltiness” and “light” that he once possessed.
When Jack was very successful, as parents David and Maria rejoiced and were happy with him. But, when Jack rejected their love and became ashamed of them, even though very deeply saddened, as parents, they did not condemn him, but continued to trust that God would one day bring about a conversion of his heart. So, they simply lived in the hope that one day, Jack would change for the better. As parents, in their wisdom, they also knew that the $10m lottery win, cannot be given to Jack, as it would draw him deeper into the darkness of his self-centred and materialistic lifestyle in the world.
When Jack eventually found out the truth of his parents, after they had died, he was devastated and during his moment of crisis, God’s Truth and Light were able to penetrate his heart, and brought about a conversion that purified him of the impurities and once again transformed him back into becoming “the salt of the earth” and “light” of the world.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, can the story of David and Maria, be the story that reflects our life’s experiences? Like David and Maria, many of us cannot make sense of why we have to go through so much pain and trials in life. Life seems to be unfair, especially so when we say we have been good people, and trying to live our Catholic faith with fidelity?
Let us first note that David and Maria, both received their consolations only after they died. It was only when they were in heaven that they reaped the fruits of their son Jack’s and his wife’s conversion of hearts. We can easily hear David and Maria saying to, Jesus and to us, “Our sacrifices, and our patient hope for our son’s conversion was worth the pain after all, for what truly matters is that Jack is now reconciled with God, and living his faith fervently, with his wife.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what about the story of Jack? Can the story in some ways also reflect how we too may have “lost our saltiness and light” in our lives because we too have been too caught up by the materialistic and superficial needs of our lives, and where such a lifestyle had led us to take God’s Goodness and the goodness of many people who love us, for granted?
If there are signs in our present lives that we are living such a life of ingratitude to people we who love us, and to God who loves us infinitely and unconditionally, then Jesus is inviting you and I to get in touch with and renew the true meaning and purpose of our lives on earth. Let us not wait for the crisis to shake us back into the reality that God who created us, wants us, to embrace the gift of eternal life and happiness that He wants to give us. This is so that we are not blinded, like Jack, by the all-consuming and self-centred living of the materialistic and secular world, when his parents were alive on earth.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves, that you and I, and every human person is created by God, out of His Infinite Love, and in His Image and Likeness. In other words, this means that every human person’s most natural and deepest longings for fulfilment in our life on earth, is first to love God in return and then inseparably, express such a love through our innate love for one another.
And, as God is the source of the deepest love in our hearts, then, this also means that all other earthly love and materialistic attractions cannot and will not fully satisfy us; only God’s Love can. St Augustine of Hippo who searched for fulfilment in life, searched for God everywhere. Eventually, he found that God was within his heart. He beautifully expresses this truth when he says, “Lord, long have I waited for You. You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until it rests in You.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, to be the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” Jesus is personally inviting you and I today to get in touch with the true meaning and purpose of our earthly lives and as such renew our commitment to love God more wholeheartedly, in the ways that Jesus has shown and taught us.
The story of David and Maria have illustrated for us concretely, that to live such a selfless Christ-like love is never going to be always easy. However, regardless of how painful and trying such a love may be, it is the Love of Jesus that we are imitating and drawing our true strength from. Our strength will come from God who will never fail us. We are called, like David and Maria, to be faithful in our love, and when we finally get to heaven, like them we too will also say, “Our sacrifices, and our patient hope were all worth the pain after all ..”
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.