Isaiah, Jesus and Paul call us to social action and faithful witness that will bind us together with compassion and integrity.
Isaiah addresses a specific situation but his injunction to: ‘Share your bread with the hungry’ has echoes for everyone. The rewards: ‘Your integrity will go before you’; ‘Your light will rise in the darkness’ are promised to all. This simple social action will draw all religions, cultures and communities together in integrity and they will be as lights to the nations since in Psalm 111: ‘The good man is a light in the darkness for the upright.’ Jesus continues this theme when he tells the disciples they are the light of the world – so that ‘seeing your good works’ people may give praise to the Father. The way to ‘preach’ the good news is by ‘good works.’ The call to share Western wealth with the poor of the world has recently been taken up via the ‘Loss and Damage’ decision taken at the last COP27 meeting. It is an expression of the ‘dialogue of action’, which by working across all human barriers can express the truth that we share a common humanity which transcends all divisions.
Isaiah’s poetic eloquence can mask the depth and the immensity of the divine invitation to us all. In and through God, the ‘light’ of our identity will ‘shine like the dawn… the glory of the Lord behind you… it will rise in the darkness… your shadow become like noon.’ Words can hardly bear the weight of Isaiah’s vision. He resorts to poetic images to enhance his meaning. How are we transformed? The lived-out faith in God becomes the route to human transparency – sharing bread with the hungry.
Paul, in the aftermath of his experience of the resurrection of Jesus on the road to Damascus, hears a truth which takes up Isaiah’s theme and which becomes his loadstone. He comes with nothing to the Corinthians – no oratory, philosophy, knowledge or power – except this knowledge from the Spirit of God. Why? So that their faith might depend not on human reasoning but on the power of God. Paul is totally single-minded and reflects the light which literally knocked him off his horse and which bathes anyone who surrenders their life to God.
It is the genius of Jesus to compare such folk to ‘salt’ and ‘light’. First, a form of diluted salt apparently existed in his day – in that sense ‘salt’ could become tasteless. True salt is used to give taste, to add flavour. Second, a light is lit so ‘everyone in the house’ can see. But in these two metaphors, we are a means to an end. We are the salt of the earth (not some part of it) and a light for everyone (not for this or that group). Our relationship with God makes us light and salt for all, since this is what God intends. The relationship is designed to include everyone, since they are predisposed to give praise to the Father of all. Julian of Norwich said that we are not simply made by God but made ‘of’ God.