Sunday of the Holy Fathers
This reading is appointed by the Orthodox Church to be read for all Feast Days of the Holy Fathers. Just prior to the time when this Gospel reading occurs in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had chosen His Disciples (Mt. 18-22), and together with them, He went all around Galilee teaching in synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness, diseases and torments among the people. Jesus had become quite famous. News of the miracles He performed spread throughout all of Syria and multitudes followed Him.
Seeing the multitudes, Jesus went up on a mountain and sat down. His disciples came to Him and Jesus proceeded to teach them about what it means to be a true Disciple of the Lord. This Biblical event is often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It is at this sermon when Jesus teaches the people how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) and provides instructions for living a holy life. The sermon begins with The Beatitudes, Mt. 5:1-16. The focus of the Gospel reading today, Mt. 5:14-19, is on the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells His disciples what is expected of them as they do the Lord’s Work in the world. He tells them that they are expected to be as salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Salt, sodium chloride, is a relatively stable compound if derived from a pure source and it is an essential element for life. Salt has also been used throughout history as a food preservative and has religious and sacrificial significance in Scripture (Lv 2:13; Nm 18:19; 2Ch 13:5). Some historians believe that salt production actually began 6000 years ago possibly in Romania. If a salt is derived from a pure source, it does not lose its saltiness. If, however, salt is derived from an area that is not a pure source, it can lose its flavor over time. Historical evidence indicates that salt that had lost its flavor was often used to harden the soil on flat roof houses in the ancient world so the roof would not leak. The flat roof of ancient buildings was often used as a playground and a place for public gatherings as well. By hardening the soil on the roof with flavorless salt, the salt then became trodden under foot when people gathered. In this Gospel reading, Jesus instructs His Disciples to be as pure salt not as impure salt, “..to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men..”; that is, Jesus instructs them to be true disciples who do not lose their effectiveness in bringing others God.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus also tells His Disciples that they are, “the light of the world. A city on a hill that cannot be hidden…” (Mt. 5:14). Light is used throughout the Old and New Testament to symbolize God (Is 60:1-3), knowledge, truth, and purity (Ps 118:105); illuminating a darkened world – a world that did not have the knowledge of the truth until the incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:4-9; 8:12; 1Jn 1:5). Jesus stresses the metaphor of light to His disciples when He tells them to, “… let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven…”. Christian believers become “sons of light” (Jn 12:36; 1Th 5:5; Php 2:15). Our Pascha Liturgy begins with the Pascha Candle and the Priest inviting the people to, “Come receive the Light which is never overtaken by night”.
Regarding the reference to “a city on a hill that cannot be hidden…”, some biblical scholars believe this refers to the Old Testament prophecies about the time when “…the mountain of the Lord’s house…” (Jerusalem or Zion) “…would be visible and all Gentiles shall come to it…” (Isaiah 2:2-5, 42, 49, 54, 60) – These prophecies are considered by some biblical scholars to be the prophecies of the Lord’s time on earth and the mission work of the Apostles to establish the Christian Church in the world for the salvation of mankind.
The Lord’s coming does not abolish the Old Testament teachings; rather, His coming and the work of the Apostles to establish the Christian Church are seen as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies.
References: Ancient Christian Commentaries of the Holy Fathers, Biblical Commentary Matthew, NKJV, Josephus Antiquities. New Testament Commentary by Paul Tarazi, New Testament Commentary by Theodore Stylianopoulos.