February 9: Hurry Back, Rabbi! (5 A)

“You are the light of the world! Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:13-16.

As we search the scriptures for its wisdom, we come to know Jesus as a preacher, a prophet, a healer, and now we listen to him patiently since he is the greatest of teachers.

Now since most of you in our congregation are expert students, in your opinion, what are the qualities of an excellent teacher?

Perhaps, someone who energizes learning and provides insight and gives direction.

Today we hear from Jesus about these critical ingredients – salt and light. Like all good teachers, Jesus is preparing his early band of followers to greater appreciate the demands of these tasks.

Salt and light become keys to open up this message. Salt is this preservative and healing agent, often taken for granted today, but a very precious in ancient times. And of course, light guides our paths even in darkness or doubt, with a radiant glow that can turn night into day.

Jesus draws on the prophet Isaiah who says: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them…then, your light will break forth.”

Indeed, the short passage which we just read from Matthew’s gospel is the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus’s teaching of the Beatitudes.

Here we are told to be “poor in spirit,” “peacemakers,” and “merciful.” By acting on behalf of those in need, Jesus’s disciples gain admission to this “invisible kingdom of the heart.”

If we can do any one of these well enough, it’s the stuff of saints. To be poor in spirit implies a complete dependence on God and a form of Jewish piety. Such reliance on God is not something easy to do or achieve.

In effect, this paragraph in Matthew’s gospel is a sort of “help class” for the newly selected rookie disciples to fully grasp their future tasks.

The four gospels have various renderings of the phrase “Blessed are.” Some translate as “Happy are the poor in spirit,” or “Happy are the Peacemakers,” in other words, there is inner happiness or radiance that can see us through even the most challenging moments in our lives.

You are the light of the world. Let your happiness shine, so your good deeds will glorify the Lord!

An Afterword

Earlier, we spoke about how Jesus was a great teacher and his ideas about salt and light.

This evening in Los Angeles, the 92nd Academy Awards will honor achievements in film. No doubt, the recent death this past week of actor Kirk Douglas will be mentioned.

At 103, Douglas defined an era of great movie stars combining a robust personality and a memorable signature line: “I am Spartacus!” His blockbuster movie of 1960, which I recall most vividly.

For those of you not familiar with him, Kirk Douglas was the Brad Pitt of his era — possessing great talent, and a life-long learner. Most of all, he was a devout and practicing Jew.

In a New York Times article, “Studying the Bible with Kirk Douglas,” his long-time friend Rabbi David Wolpe writes of their weekly study of sacred scripture.

Wolpe states: “The world knows Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, I know him as my ‘hevruta,’ the Aramaic word for a study partner.”

This article is worthwhile in so many ways, opening for us the role of the teacher and learner and how such a relationship of inquiry furthers religious wisdom and social action.

With these final remarks, Wolpe concludes: “Shortly after his 90th birthday as I was leaving his house, he (Kirk Douglas) called from the doorway: “Hurry back Rabbi, there is a lot to learn, and the sun is setting.”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA

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