SCRIPTURE NOTEBOOK by Doris Hayes Isaiah 58:7-10 Psalm 111 1 Corinthians 21-5 Matthew 5:13-16
THE people had returned from long exile and were rebuilding their lives and their city and hoped to rebuild the temple. Their strict religious observance was an integral part of their revived nationalism.
In the inspired poetry of the third Isaiah, God tells them that
this outward show of religion does not please him. He addresses the respectable people who perform rival fasts. Their competitive spirit in business, their pursuit of self-interest, their exploitation of their employees, their contempt for the socially inferior, their oppression of the poor: all these anti-social vices render their ritual fasting unpleasing to God.
"The fast that pleases me," says God through the prophet, is to let the oppressed go free, To share your bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless poor, Then will your light shine like the dawn."
For-the psalmist it is God who
is "a light in the darkness", for he is "generous, merciful and just". That divine light will be reflected in the works of mercy and of justice of the person who exemplifies God's righteousness and generosity in social and business relationships.
Jesus is in this prophetic tradition. When he says to his disciples, "You are the light of the world. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub," he cannot mean merely, "You must be a good example". Later in the same discourse ha explicitly tells them
psalm a hg darkn is g an
not to make a show of their religion. Of prayer, of almsgiving and of fasting he tells them to do these food works in secret, not "to be seen before men, as the hypocrites do" These words about being the light of the world immediately follow the beatitudes, which we read last week.
So it is those who are blessed by being poor in spirit, gentle, merciful. peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice and are willing to be persecuted in the cause of right who will be the light of the world.
They will be a beacon of hope to the downtrodden. to the homeless, to the hungry. to all those who suffer because of the selfishness and greed of those who "seek their own pleasure" Isaiah 58:33.
Jesus says. "seeing your good works men may praise your Father, just as James writes that "pure and unspoilt religion," which "comes down to us from the Father of all light," consists in doing good works.
The prophets had before them a vision and a hope of a future shalom, the peace between God and all creation when suffering would be no more. The "peacemakers" whom Jesus declares blessed have the task of working towards such a society, the kingdom of God.
Then will "your light shine like the dawn", as the prophet promised, or then will you be "the light of the world" as Jesus declared.