Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 020517 — “Put Me in the Game!”
A few nights ago in a basketball game the underdog team was losing by 20 points. Yet, it did not give up and, incredibly, found a way to win. How do athletes acquire a desire for victory, motivation to practice, confidence to compete against the odds? Does it depend on raw talent, teamwork, gutsy instincts, inspiring coaches?
Tonight’s Super Bowl game will be full of hype, political advertisements, coaching strategies and a strong desire on the part of both teams to win. It is a metaphorical reminder of the innate drive that all humans have to survive and win no matter what it takes.
Have you ever wondered if Jesus of Nazareth was athletic? We know he walked a lot but did he work out or play any sports? In every film, painting and sculpture he looks fit and trim. And, who motivated him to preach like he did, to compete against the opposition and to dream of human rights? Maybe his mother Mary was his coach. We know she was a no nonsense woman determined to speak her mind in opposing unbridled power and selfish wealth.
In today’s gospel Jesus continues the great sermon on the mount, a pep talk to his team. You are the salt of the earth! The light to the world! Get out there and play hard. Show the opposition that you are the good news that will win out against all odds. The speech was a call for teamwork similar to what we heard in the oracle from Third Isaiah concerning the ethical and religious behavior of the Israelite community.  Do not turn your backs on your own! Protect them. Share your food. Shelter the homeless. Your light shall erase the fears of the night.
Jesus looked for the same accountability in his followers. This gospel stresses the conduct of his teammates. He did not challenge them to become the light and the salt. You ARE the light and the salt, he told them. He encouraged them to believe in themselves and that they could succeed in their mission.
Scripture scholar Barbara Reid reminds us “Salt in the ancient world was used for seasoning, preservation, purification and judgment.” Reid also points out that Cicero (Cataline 4.6) described Rome as a “light to the whole world.” Jesus challenged that political boast. It is “not the imperial domination system but [Jesus’] beatitudinal way of life, carried forth by his disciples, that is the light of the world.” 
The Falcons and the Patriots tonight are ready, practice is over, the playbook is memorized. All they have to do is compete to the best of their abilities with each player making contributions.
Jesus’ game plan focused on a vision for establishing the kin-dom of God on earth. In each encounter he used a play option to resist attacks by oppressors but he could not do it alone. He needed his teammates to help win the game. Blockers to protect him. Runners and receivers to reach the ultimate goal line.
Professor Karoline Lewis (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN) wrote that this Gospel asks each of us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, to speak and act when anyone at all loses her way. The Gospel urges us to not to stand on the sidelines but to move into the fray, into the global arena.
Athletes work hard to succeed in their sport. For Christians, taking action to resist whatever or whomever opposes human rights is the cost of our discipleship.
- DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013), 166
- Reid, Barbara. Parables for Preachers: Year A. (Collegevile: Liturgical Press, 2001), 48 and 53