Jaime L. WatersJanuary 24, 2020
Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Today’s first reading and Gospel passage speak profoundly about the importance of caring for people in need and being an example for others. These readings call on us to offer support and inspire others to do the same.

‘You are the light of the world.’ (Mt 5:14)

Liturgical day
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Is 58:7-10; Ps 112; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Am I living out Jesus’ command to be the light of the world?

What can I do to remove oppression and malicious speech?

What can I do to help create a just society?


The reading from Isaiah comes from a period after the Israelites’ return from exile in Babylon. The audience appears to be people who are financially and physically able to care for their own needs. These people are called on to care for others: share bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked and welcome people in need (Is 58:7). These actions, which are echoed in the corporal works of mercy, speak of perennial human needs. In Isaiah 58, the prophet links worship of God with care for people in need. He critiques false religiosity and insists that true worship requires a change in one’s mindset and behavior.

In today’s society, in which so many people are poor, suffering, vulnerable and disenfranchised, we must heed Isaiah’s call to action. Praying for people is a good thing to do but is insufficient by itself. Isaiah suggests tangible actions we should be taking. Importantly, Isaiah connects caring for one another with God’s care (Is 58:8-9). By fostering societies in which people support one another, we emulate God, who cares for all of us.

The first reading concludes with additional commands and promises that are relevant today. Isaiah tells his community to remove oppression and malicious speech, bestow bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted. When people do these things, a just society can emerge, and light rises from the darkness (Is 58:9-10). In a world that is too often filled with hate and disregard, we can promote Isaiah’s vision by condemning hateful speech and serving people in need.

The Gospel reading from Matthew is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount that elaborates on the need for people to act in the world. As in the reading from Isaiah, Matthew uses the metaphor of light to represent goodness and justice in society. Jesus calls his disciples to be the light of the world. Moreover, their positive actions cannot be hidden; rather, they must be an example for others. “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). Like Isaiah, Matthew calls on his community to act openly in a way that is like God’s action and will be an example for others to follow.

Between these two readings, we hear a short proclamation from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul describes his divinely ordained mission and highlights the importance of faith in God’s actions and power. Paul’s emphasis on God’s power can help us as we reflect on the readings from Isaiah and Matthew. All of today’s readings urge us to act in the face of poverty, hatred and injustice, and they challenge us to put the needs of others on the same level as our own. We should remember that our faith in God requires us to act. Our treatment of all people in society is a reflection of our relationship with God.

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