Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 5, 2023
“The National Prayer Breakfast” is a decades old tradition. Held in Washington D.C. on the first Thursday of February, the event brings our nation’s leaders together in prayer. That is certainly consistent with our motto: In God We Trust!
The perception might well be that this is an opportunity for our national leaders to come together for “morning prayer” and a shared meal. For people of faith, it is both comforting and encouraging to think that politics can be put to the side, and our leaders, together, humble themselves before our God.
This year, there has been a significant change. It was recently announced that the longstanding host, a Christian “movement” (not to be confused with a structured organization) called the “International Foundation” has stepped aside as the organizer/promoter. Congress has taken on the responsibility for the gathering.
The fact is, over the years, the affair has grown in both size and duration. The National Prayer Breakfast is no longer a few hours of fellowship, faith sharing, and reflection among elected officials. It has become the centerpiece of several days of what is most easily described as “Christian networking,” attracting literally thousands of people.
As one might expect, the press became interested in the event. One young journalist went so far as to become “imbed” within the “International Foundation.” He eventually wrote two books about his experiences as an “insider.” His books became the inspiration for a fairly recent documentary, which was very much focused on the purpose of the “The National Prayer Breakfast.” The motive of the “movement” that previously hosted the gatherings over the course of several days was called into question.
After reading the books, viewing the documentary, or listening to any of the reports of investigative journalists, the lingering concern for many becomes: IS THIS AN EXAMPLE OF THE GOSPEL INFLUENCING THE DIRECTION OF POLITICS…OR IS THIS THE SELF-SERVING USE AND INTERPRETATION OF “THE GOOD NEWS” IN AN EFFORT TO JUSTIFY AND SUPPORT A PARTICULAR POLITICAL AGENDA?
When pondering the true motivation of any “Gospel-fueled” movement or organization not recognized as “mainstream Christianity,” it seems helpful to recall Jesus’s instructions to His inner circle: There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.
BUT…it is also important to recall how The Lord’s instructions ended: Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. (Mark 9:39-40)
Which brings us to this weekend’s Readings.
First, some background about the passage from Isaiah.
What is proclaimed comes towards the conclusion of the prophet’s writings and finds Israel recently returned from captive slavery in a foreign country. In the struggle to reestablish itself as “The Chosen People,” emphasis was placed on strict observance of rituals, worship, and sacrifices. In spite of these efforts, things were not what had been hoped for while a captive nation. So a national fast (rather than a prayer breakfast) was under discussion.
Enter Isaiah, voicing God’s reaction to the proposal.
Basically, Isaiah is telling the people that nothing will change until THEY CHANGE! Moreover, this change will not come about by fasting. The change that God desires is social reform.
Specifically, there must be an end to divisive behavior and violence. Unfair labor practices must be addressed. Leaders must learn to rule with an eye to the common good and not in the pursuit of power to promote self-interest. With these changes, Jerusalem would reestablish itself as the City of Light…shining brightly for the rest of the world to see, admire, and strive to imitate. Without these changes, darkness would continue to veil and obscure the light.
Today’s Gospel passage about salt (not just a seasoning but also a preservative) and light (necessary to preserve life) follows and is very much compatible with last week’s proclamation of The Sermon on the Mount…THE BEATITUDES. The Lord touches on all of the concerns about the common good found in the passage from Isaiah.
So then, while people of faith naturally find comfort and encouragement in seeing our nation’s leaders praying together, it is important to ask: JUST EXACTLY WHAT IS IT YOU ARE PRAYING FOR? If prayer is for the success of a particular agenda, then another question becomes quite significant: HOW DOES YOUR AGENDA SQUARE WITH SACRED SCRIPTURE?
If we truly are a nation which places our trust in God, then we should expect to see our national policies come down from the mountaintop and not from political machinations on Capitol Hill.
That, of course, means a commitment to make those changes in policies and laws which reflect the message voiced by Isaiah…and magnified by Jesus Christ. Hopefully, at some point prior to this year’s “scaled down prayer breakfast” the participants had an opportunity to consider the call to social justice that reverberates throughout Sacred Scripture…certainly highlighted by the Lord, Himself.
For those of us who will never be invited to “The National Prayer Breakfast,” no matter who hosts the event, we can certainly pray at home. And a most worthy prayer is to be found at Ephesians 1:17-23 where St. Paul asks: God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give [our leaders] a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.
Let US pray that all those who lead our world, our nation, our Church, our parishes, our families…serve with hearts enlightened by God’s will and God’s ways…so that we all might live in peace, justice, and love.