“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus. Mary and Joseph obeyed the law despite knowing that Jesus is the Messiah. Simeon and Anna were filled with the Holy Spirit and they prophesied about the child. Every time we pray, we present ourselves to God and in every presentation, there is always a revelation. As Jesus’ identity was revealed at his presentation, God reveals a lot to us when we commune with Him in prayer.
Today’s readings are very direct and straightforward. It is not enough to pray (present ourselves to God), we must also present ourselves to our fellow humans by treating others just as we would like to be treated. St. John tells us: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20). Our readings today provide us with the ‘one million reasons’ why we must never fail to help those in need around us. Since there will not be enough time to mention one million points, we shall summarize our lessons as follows:
1. In Helping Others, We Taste like Salt and Shine as Lights.
The prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading gave a practical explanation of what Jesus talks about in our Gospel passage. The key to being ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ is showing love to those who need it most: the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the prisoners and so on. Although Isaiah’s list is not exhaustive, he basically draws our attention to the seven-corporal works of mercy which are: Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Sheltering the Homeless, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Sick, Visiting the Prisoners and Burying the dead.
If you recall, Jesus Christ mentioned these as the requirement for admission into heaven. “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40).
If we must shine before men, that they may see our good works and give glory to God, we must be charitable to others. As salt makes soup sweet, so do our acts of charity make the world sweet and bearable. With our situation in Nigeria now, the rate of depression and suicide has skyrocketed. A little kindness, a smile, a word of appreciation or even a simple hug rendered to someone might just be all they need to continue living.
2. Actions Speak Louder than Words.
In our second reading today, St. Paul confesses that the success of his pastoral ministry was not due to his academic degrees nor his ability to use grandiose vocabularies, it wasn’t even because of repertoire of philosophical sayings (words of wisdom), rather it was due to his demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In truth, the best homilies are not preached with words but with actions. People are not often what they say they are, they are what they do. The world is tired of preachers, the world only listens to doers.
Jesus himself said: “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-17). If we must convert souls for God, our words of preaching will be useless if we do not match these words with practical giving. If we fail to feed the hungry stomachs around us, we all miss out our opportunity to touch their hearts. The saying is true that the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach.
St. James adds: “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17). It is in helping others that we prove we are convinced of the faith which we are trying to share. And if we are not convinced, how do we hope to convince others?
3. Charity Covers A Multitude of Sins; Brings Healing and Answered Prayers.
There are a million reasons we must help others. As Isaiah: “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
A priest once told a story of how he asked a sick patient during a hospital visitation to find a more needy person to help. After the sick person did this, he was miraculously healed and in no time was free to return home. Each time we pray, we approach God as beggars and the criterion for receiving from God is giving to those who beg from us. Jesus explicitly warned that our refusal to forgive others blocks God’s forgiveness implying that our refusal to give others what is in our power to give blocks us from receiving what is in God’s power to render to us.
In the movie “Same Kind of Different as me”, I learnt a very powerful lesson: “The only things that remain ours permanently are those things we give away.” The rewards of giving are just too much in comparison with the pain of letting them go. Our light breaks forth, we are healed speedily, God becomes our personal bodyguard, He answers us whenever we cry to him. Help someone, put a smile on their face, lift someone’s life today
4. The Best Kind of Giving is Fighting Injustice Around Us.
When it comes to giving, it is not just food or money. Isaiah speaks of a deeper kind of giving: “If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:9-10).
Isaiah is not just talking about sharing some bread for a hungry person this time around, he is pointing our attention to the real roots of poverty in our land which is the fact that some persons are disadvantaged (that is, under a yoke; afflicted, victims of wickedness; unfairly treated). Isaiah is speaking of human rights advocacy; being a voice for the voiceless. It is not enough that we give people fish, we must remove whatever is preventing them from going to the river. Of course, this requires “pouring yourself out for the hungry” that is, giving our all, using all our power and influence to cause positive change in society and fight injustice.
Never think your problems are the biggest. You only need to open your eyes to see that millions are suffering around you. Stop complaining. Stop asking who is to blame. Do something; help someone, share whatever you have, this way you will be shining as God desires that His children shine.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, free me from selfishness, break my cold heart of stone and give me a heart that sees, a heart that cares, a heart that is not afraid to give. Amen.