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Good Works

“Charity” by Hugo Cardoso/Flickr

5 Epiphany, February 5

Isa. 58:1-9a (9b-12) • Ps. 112:1-9 (10) • 1 Cor. 2:1-12 (13-16) • Matt. 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth; … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14). The addressed subject is not only the disciples in the narrative, but the reader, the liturgical hearer. This is a statement about vocation that spans the breadth of time. In every age, a disciple is one who, like salt, is “pure and holy” (Ex. 30:35; Lev. 2:13); a disciple is one whose light breaks forth like the dawn (Isa. 58:8). As salt and light in the world, disciples do good works, seasoning and illumining their environment, drawing attention not to the works but to their source. Thus, observers “give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

This vocation may be compromised, even lost. Salt may lose its flavor; a lamp may be hidden. A disciple, therefore, hears the declarative sentence as a command and warning, an invitation to accept one’s call and act upon it: You are the salt, you are the light. The great challenge is discerning and enacting “a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees,” a righteousness that fulfills and reinterprets Scripture under the authority of Jesus. Indeed, as the New Moses, Jesus says again and again: “You have heard it said to those of ancient times, … but I say to you” (Matt. 5:21-22).

While insisting that one’s inner intention is the place where sin is born, Jesus still cares deeply about what his disciples do and refrain from doing. Again, he summons the disciples to good works that season and illumine the present moment and give glory to God.

Using the prophet Isaiah, we may list but not exhaust the good deeds of a good life lived under the rule of God: loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house, and cover the naked (Isa. 58:6-7). In one of the most memorable passages in Matthew’s Gospel, the great judgment at the end of time is directly related to “good works” that have been done or left undone. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and your welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25:35-36).

Works matter. They are the direct and natural expression of one’s vocation as salt and light to the world. Again, a disciple is called to “incarnate” the presence of Christ in flesh, action, and the whole sphere of one’s influence. This is not, however, an impetuous call simply to do something, anything; a charge toward others with good intentions and presumed good works that may have little or no correlation to the situation and what is required. In other words, a disciple should bear fruit that “fits” repentance, is suited to new life in Christ. To do this, a disciple must learn through the Spirit the very depths of God and take on the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10, 16). Furthermore, good works will show the power of God, a power that surpasses all understanding, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9).

While works are the instrument of our salvation, they are not its first cause. Christ is the ground of every good deed, the source and power of God. Test every work by its source and recall that some, unfit works should be left undone.

Look It Up
Read 1 Cor. 2:4. Demonstration.

Think About It
Call, vocation, discernment, action.

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