The scripture readings for Epiphany 5 Year A coalesce around several themes: righteousness, light, and visibility.
In this week’s second installment of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces that he has not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. Our fulfillment of the law and the prophets is as salt and light.
Salt preserves. It tenderizes, it seasons, and diluted with water, the ancients used it to cleanse and treat wounds.
Light illumines, guides, and exposes what is formerly hidden or concealed.
Jesus insists that this discipleship be visible and tangible: not hidden under a bushel, not grown flat and stale. Yet the visibility of our discipleship as salt and light is not for its own sake. It is not meant to call attention to our acts of righteousness, but to allow the world to locate the “city on a hill” in the community of those who follow Jesus.
Isaiah 58: 1-12
Since Jesus comes not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, we take seriously the words of the prophet. The people complain, and God answers. The content of their complaint is that God does not see their visible acts of righteousness, in this case, their fasting. God replies that the people have failed at fasting and humility, while really serving their own interests and oppressing their workers. Instead, God would have other actions constitute their visible righteousness: their fast should be to “share their bread with the hungry,” shelter the poor, and clothe the naked (58: 7). From these acts, “light shall break forth like the dawn” (58:8).
1 Corinthians 2: 1-16
Tthe Apostle Paul proposes the lens through which we perceive God’s work and which clarifies our own: Christ crucified. Christ crucified is the visible, incarnate out-pouring of God’s kenotic, loving, righteous mission to renew us. Looking through this lens, we see the powers of the world and the wisdom of the age for what they are, and for what they are not. Looking through the lens of Christ crucified also enables our spiritual discernment, our perception of “what is truly God’s” (2: 11).
Stephanie Perdew VanSlyke, Ph.D., is President of The Liturgical Conference, Senior Pastor of First Congregational Church UCC, Wilmette, Illinois, and affiliate faculty in Christian History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.