A Challenge Isaiah and Jesus – Bill Hearn

The Readings today (Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20) are uncomfortable. Both Isaiah and Jesus are bringing us the Word of God which often is challenging to us. Both messages are strong, blunt, uncompromising. Jesus tells us something we should be, and usually aren’t; and Isaiah tells us something we should do, and usually don’t.

Today’s gospel verses follow on from last week’s message about the Beatitudes – Jesus’ teaching about true blessing arising out of one’s total dependence upon God for everything in life – indeed for life itself. Out of that understanding will come true happiness.

But the disciples weren’t to keep such blessings to themselves. They were to get out there among the people so that the message of the beatitudes could enhance and illuminate the world. With salt and light.

Someone cleverly described these verses about salt and light as the “be-attitudes”, or, the attitude we need to have”; “Be-attitudes”.

“You’re here to be the salt of the earth…your here to be the light of the world” Jesus proclaims. So, go out and be that salt, and be that light in the world.

How then, can we best be salt and light?

Isaiah helps us in our understanding about light. Controversy rages over the obligations of the religious life;

  • who should enter the temple?
  • how one should observe the Sabbath?
  • how one should fast?

They’re perplexed – they can’t figure out why their religious routine doesn’t pay off.

God’s answer through the prophet Isaiah is;

that though they think that they are delighting in God’s ways, they are really only pursuing their own gratification.

The kind of fasting that God looks for is one which would mean

  • sharing their food,
  • sharing their shelter,
  • sharing their clothing,

with the destitute who needed it.

“Then” God says through Isaiah;

“Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am’.”

And;

“If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.”

And Jesus proclaims;

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world.”

All of us who profess to follow Christ are to make visible – all the places where the quality of life is diminished, and then to light a candle of hope.

“No-one”, says Jesus, “lights a lamp and puts it under a bucket.”

These words call us; in fact they push us into action. Our light must shine. We cannot hide it. We cannot deny it. We cannot dim it. We are light.

We are the light of Christ. The God who dwells in unapproachable light dwells within us. We cannot dim the light, and we cannot outshine it. We must simply be that light, and shine.

So, how do we shine?

Well, we have the gift of the “Beatitudes”, so we know what our ‘attitudes’ should be.

Humility,

Sorry for our sins,

Submit to God by discarding ego,

Be merciful and forgiving of others,

Make our thoughts pure,

Reconcile ourselves with God and others,

Promote Peace, and

Live openly as God’s people even to the point of persecution.

So are we indeed all this?

Or are we, like the people of Isaiah’s time, bringing sorrow to God because we are more focused on our religious rituals each week, than we are in using our light to make visible the places where people are living in the shadows, fearful and lonely, or sick. Are we really being light and salt for such people?

Remember what Jesus says to us? You are the salt of the earth – you are the light of the world.

So, perhaps Jesus’ other example of our being the salt of the earth can help.

Salt was perfectly logical example to give to the people of the first century and for many since then.

In Jesus’ time salt was connected in people’s minds with three special qualities;

  • with purity;
  • with preservation from decay, and corruption; and,
  • the most obvious quality of salt is that salt lends flavour to things. It influences or enhances that which it contacts!

I actually observed this in Nasir, South Sudan. There were pallet loads of fish in storage that had been treated in salt.

You see the heritage of war and violence over many years had left terrible scars on people of all ages.

When peace came, problems arose with the Youth. They formed gangs and committed violent criminal acts on the community.

Some very wise people stepped in and introduced a wonderful program called, ‘Teach a Youth to Fish’.

Problem youths were taken in and taught how to fish in the Sobatt River. They were also taught how to stack, store and sell the fish on what became a profitable commercial market.

To do this they learnt how to use salt for preservation, purity, and taste.

This program was introduced approximately eighteen months to two years before my visit. From the time of its introduction, Youth street violence had been totally eradicated in Nasir.

They did it in a totally natural way – identifying the needs and pain of young people with feeling, emotion and passion – compassion – in ways which brought light and life into their darkness and transformed it.

Is there a lesson in this for us? When people are shown respect, given dignity, shown empathy for their situations and not treated as criminals or outcasts – thrown in jail; remarkable things happen.

Nasir did not need to build a more secure Youth Detention Centre; they fixed the problem so that their Youth did not commit criminal acts, kids did not need to be locked up.

How? Being merciful, forgiving, not judging, seeking peace, all lessons taught to us in the Beatitudes. It was a Christian group that started this Youth Program in Nasir – they let their light shine in a very dark and troubled world around them, and God did marvelous things with them.

When we read news in the press and hear commentary from others, God wants us to form our attitude to current events on His values and then speak out and act in ways that bring Salt and Light that will overcome corruption and darkness.

Let us be bold enough to believe that we are blessed by God and can use these gifts to be agents of life and transformation. It may be painful and difficult, but then, did Jesus ever say that it would be otherwise?

Let us pray;

Loving Lord, let each of us ‘Be-attitudes’ that reflect Your values in the world around us and bring light and hope to ourselves, each other and those we meet.

In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.

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