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 Reflections on the readings for Sunday, February 5, 2023 – Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [Proper 5] (Your parish may occasionally opt to use different readings.) 

Greetings all,
 
All of these readings answer a question in different ways. The question is - what would a real spirituality look like? Isaiah says that it’s much more than mere ritual observance. The Psalmist says it will show itself in acts of generosity and justice. Paul tells the Corinth community that power and intellectual brilliance are not ultimate values. Jesus tells us our spirituality should possess integrity and it should issue in action. Together the readings develop these criteria.
 
As always, blessings on you and those whom you love.  
Herb

THE FIRST READING Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
 
Isaiah sees that people "delight to draw near to God”. Very much a description of much of today's spirituality - a pleasant and comfortable relationship with God. Isaiah takes one aspect of religious life in his day. Many people in that long ago Jerusalem fasted as a religious observance. Isaiah is really saying to them “how does your fasting observance square with the way you treat the people you employ?”. You fast and you feel you’ve done your religious duty. Meanwhile “you oppress all your workers”! 
 
Now Isaiah really confronts people, telling them the “fasting” that God really wants from them. …to loose the bonds of justice….to let the oppressed go free…to share your bread with the hungry ….to bring the homeless poor into your house ….to see the naked and to cover them.“ 
 
Isaiah now takes another way to persuade those in power. He lists the advantages that come to a society that practices social justice. "If you offer your bread to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, you shall be like a watered garden whose waters never fail”. 
 
I sometimes think that if you took the whole body of prophetic writing of this period in Israel's history and summed up in one sentence what these voices were saying, you could do it in one blunt, challenging directive. In today's language they were saying. “Get real about what you call your spirituality”! These prophets pulled no punches. Sometimes they paid dearly for it. 
 
 
THE PSALM 112: 1-9
 
Words can become worn out, threadbare. In today's society the words "righteous and righteousness" have suffered this fate. Very few of us would wish today to be called righteous. We would know we were not being praised, putting it mildly! However, in verses 4 and 5, we have as good a definition as we are ever going to get of what the Bible means by being righteous. To be righteous is simply to be "gracious, merciful, generous and just". Such a person, says the Psalmist, will never be shaken.  It sounds simple and straightforward but the thing is to live it!
 
 
THE SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 2: 1-12
 
Corinth was a sophisticated and intellectual society and was very proud of it. What Paul had to do was not to dismiss such gifts in any way but to insist that they were not the be-all and end-all of spirituality. For Paul, the mind very much has a place in our spirituality but brilliance is not the ultimate value. When our human capacity to think is allied to our capacity for trust in God, then we are indeed spiritually rich. That’s the message here.  
 
 
THE HOLY GOSPEL Matthew 5: 13-20
 
There is a pattern in all of these readings suggesting that if our lives are to have any integrity, what we say we believe and what we actually do must be consistent with each other. Faith can never be just ritual religion (First Reading), intellectual content (Second Reading) or a beautiful dream of a kingdom (this Gospel passage).
 
None of these things are bad. Ritual can be beautiful. It can be healing and reassuring in difficult times when everything seems to be falling apart. Intellectual content, great literature, art of every kind, brilliant ideas may all enrich the mind in many ways. Envisioning a society or community of beauty, joy and peace can be a worthwhile mental exercise. It can be inspiring. But none of these things is relevant if they don’t find expression in our actions, if they do not motivate us in our efforts to make these wonderful ideas realities that affect the lives of people for good.