5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
Is. 58:6-10; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; Mt. 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”
A young woman asked for an appointment with her priest to talk with him about a besetting sin about which she was worried. When she met him, she said, “Father, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, that’s just a mistake!”
The common theme of all three readings today is our mission to the world as salt and light. A teacher asked a boy to define salt. The boy hesitated. Finally he stammered, “Salt is what makes French Fries taste good when you sprinkle it on.”
That little salt shaker sitting today on every kitchen table was unknown in the Middle East of the time of Christ. Only the very wealthy could afford refined salt. Ordinary people had a “salt bag.” The salt with all its impurities was placed in the bag, and then used in soup or other liquids for flavoring. Eventually all the salt was gone, leaving only impurities, or the “dregs.” This is what is meant in the gospel when our Lord asks, “what if the salt goes flat?”
Salt is a good symbol for the gift of baptismal integrity given to us by Christ, as a white garment to be kept clean and radiant. Salt itself cannot go flat; it is used up and what remains in the salt bag, the “dregs” does not suffice for flavoring food, leaving all it touches “flat.” One either has salt, or the taste of salt, or one doesn’t. We are either dead in our sins or alive in Christ. Once the salt is gone, a person must return to the source of the salt in order to replace it; nothing else will suffice. If one is to have life, one must go to its Divine source.
In the ancient world salt was highly valued. The Greeks called salt divine and the Romans said, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.” The English word ‘salary’ literally means ‘salt money’. In the time of Jesus, salt was connected in people’s minds with three special qualities.
(i) Salt was connected with purity because it was white and it came from the purest of all things, the sun and the sea. (ii) Salt was the commonest of all preservatives in the ancient world when people did not have fridges and freezers. (iii) Salt lends flavor to food items.
Salt was the most primitive of all offerings to the gods. Jewish sacrifices were offered with salt. The Orientals made their oaths with salt to ratify them. They believed that it was the salt that kept the seas pure. As the salt of the earth, the Christian must be an example of purity, exercising absolute purity in speech, in conduct, and even in thought. God calls His children to preserve and purify. The Church is to preserve modesty, morality, honesty and integrity.
The white garments of our baptism and the lighting of a candle are signs of the gift of grace we receive from Christ, as we read in the Catechism. The white garment symbolizes that the person baptized has “put on Christ,” (Gal 3:27) has risen with Christ. The candle, lit from the Easter candle, signifies that Christ has enlightened the neophyte. In him the baptized are ‘the light of the world.'” (Mt 5:14) (CCC 1243)
Jesus tells his disciples that they are the light of the world. He adds, “. . . your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.” The metaphor of light is often used in the Bible. The Jews spoke of Jerusalem as “a light to the Gentiles.” But Jerusalem does not produce its own light. It is God who lights the lamp of Israel. Moreover, Jerusalem cannot hide its light.
When Jesus commanded his followers to be the light of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like him, the One who claimed to be the Light of the world. “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (Jn.9:5). Christ is the “true” or “original” Light (Jn.8:12). Citizens of the kingdom are simply “luminaries” reflecting the One True Light, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun (2 Co 4:6).
Christians are to be torch-bearers in a dark world. We should not try to hide the light which God has lit in our lives. Rather, we should let it shine so that others may see our good deeds and praise God. A light is something which is meant to be seen.
(The lamp in Palestine was like a sauce-boat full of oil with a wick floating in it. When people went out, for safety’s sake, they took the lamp from its stand, and put it under an earthen bushel measure, so that it might burn without risk until they came back). Christians must be visible like a “city” on a hilltop and a lamp on a “lamp stand.” Jesus therefore expects His followers to be seen by the world.
A lamp or light is a guide to make clear the way. So then, a Christian must make the way clear to others. That is to say, a Christian must be an example. A light can often be a warning light. A light is often the warning which tells us to halt when there is danger ahead. It is sometimes the Christian’s duty to bring to his fellowmen a necessary warning. If our warnings are given, not in anger, not in irritation, not in criticism, not in condemnation, but in love, they will be effective.
Light exposes everything hidden by darkness. When our teens, baptized and confirmed, get pregnant and do drugs at the same rate as the general teenage population – when our marriages end in divorce at the same rate as the rest of society – when we cheat in business, or lie, steal, and cheat on our spouses at the same statistical level as those who say they are not Christians – something is wrong.
Let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves whether we are the light which can be seen, the light which warns, and the light which guides: these are the lights which the Christian must be. We need to live our short lives as traces of salt and candles of light: It only takes a sprinkling of salt to transform a dull and tasteless piece of meat. Just a little salt transforms everything. Just a pinch of soul-salt will add flavor to the lives of hundreds, or even thousands.
Just a little light empties the world of darkness, with a little faith and love we can light up a big social area. Salt is a hidden but powerful influence. Light is a visible and revealing influence. Jesus tells us that we are not only to be the salt of the earth but also the light of the world. We are called to make a visible impact on the world around us.
The conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer (The Doxology) of the Mass is an expression of the deepest truth of Christian faith: “Through him and with him and in him …. forever and ever.” Jesus is saying to you and me: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Amen.