A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

Climb every mountain

In the movie Sound of Music, the Julie Andrew’s character (Maria von Trapp) was on a mountain top discerning her vocation, namely, continue living in the convent as a nun or get married.  In a subsequent conversation with the mother superior she made her decision, no doubt decided while on the mountain top.  The song “Climb every mountain” played in the background indicating that the mountain top was a good place for decision making.  (I may not have the facts straight, but this is how I remember the movie, seen many years ago)

The reason I mention the above is to note that “mountain” imagery plays a very important role in biblical thinking.  For instance, Mount Sinai becomes the place where YHWH and Israel become bonded together via a conditional covenant, where God says, in effect, “I will be your God and you shall be my people IF you keep my commandments.”  (Exodus 19)   Then, of course, we have the mount of the Transfiguration where Peter, James, and John saw the divinity of Jesus.  Also, there is the situation of Mount Calvary where Jesus died and subsequently rose from the dead as an act of salvation for all,

Why is the “mountain” significant?  Because it is considered the meeting point between  heaven and earth.  Something important transpires there, for example, a life changing decision.

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time is Matthew 5:13-16, which is actually part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7).  Because the entire message is given from a mountain, we have to be very attentive to what is said.  The key phrase to Jesus’ message is found in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill.”  The fulfillment was in the internalization of the law.  That is to say that thoughts as well as actions could be culpable.

In addition to the symbolism of the mountain, we also note the expression of the images of “salt” and “light.” ” Salt” not only adds flavor to food, but also functions as a preservative. “Light” cannot exist simultaneously with darkness.  Light is often referred to as either knowledge or goodness, while darkness suggested ignorance and evil.

The phrases “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” strongly suggest that, as applied to christians,  one is to “bring flavor” to the work of others, and “lead others our of darkness.”  That is to say, being a disciple of Jesus is to have the missionary spirit and  perform deeds of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding.  You give “salt” by providing a good example for others to follow.  That is how one “gives savor.”   Your “light shines before all others” by leading them out of the darkness of ignorance and evil.  In other words, what you say and what you do will effect others–for good or for evil.  This depends on my decision on how to act.

The major challenge for me personally, is to decide for myself “Where is my mountain?”  That is to say,  where do heaven (Jesus’ examples) and earth (my own value system) come together for me?  Upon what meeting point do I base my decision to act?  The answer, it seems to me, is to “climb every mountain” that presents itself as the challenge, and then make the decision to act.

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