Salt is important and it is used in many ways. We are all probably aware of its use this winter in treating hard surfaces to melt ice and snow. Salt, however, is more frequently used in food preservation and cooking. Before the invention of modern refrigeration and freezing machines, salt was used as a preservative to cure meats and other foods so that they would “keep” in storage.
You might also remember the scene in modern Indian history where Ghandi led the “Salt March,” a protest whereby people made their own salt from the sea. That activity was forbidden because of a law protecting the British monopoly on salt production.
Salt is most commonly used in cooking to release, accent or “bring out” the natural flavors in food. Jesus uses the image of “salt” in this way as he speaks to his disciples.
He says: “You are the salt of the Earth.” In using this image, Jesus reminds his followers that they are the ones who bring out goodness from others or from situations in which they find themselves. In a similar way he says: “You are the light of the world.” We often think of Jesus as the Light of the World, and indeed he refers to himself in this way elsewhere.
Now, however, he is speaking of his disciples. He is speaking of us. We can be a light in the darkness and salt of the earth when we live as his disciples, instruments of his love. The readings for today’s liturgy help us to understand how this happens.
First, being salt and light means being an instrument of charity. Isaiah, acting as the spokesperson for the Lord, calls the Israelites to care for the needy, poor and oppressed among them. He says: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own…. If you remove from your midst oppressions, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise from you in the darkness.”
Jesus refers to us as light and salt because charity and love dispel darkness and enrich the world with the flavor of goodness and beauty, kindness and compassion, truth and peace. The responsorial verse echoes this reality saying: “The just man is a light in the darkness to the upright.” The psalm clarifies this “light” in this way: “His heart is steadfast; he shall not fear. Lavishly he gives to the poor; his justice shall endure forever; his horn shall be exalted in glory.”
Second, being salt and light requires humility.St. Paulin his First Letter to the Corinthians speaks of his own witness to Christ saying: “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling….”
Paul is telling the Corinthians that he is not the focus of the message but rather Christ. Christ is the one who acts, Paul is his instrument. Thus Paul acknowledges his weakness but says he is able to offer a “demonstration of Spirit and power.” Paul reminds the Corinthians, and us, that our faith does not rest “on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
Being salt or light in the world today calls forth a complimentary humility. Humility keeps the focus on the divine actor working in us and through our good deeds. It is his love that continues to be manifest in all works of charity. It is through his presence and activity that the salt will bring forth the best of flavors; that the light will shine at its brightest.
The world in which we live is in great need of salt and light. Opening our eyes to the needs of others living among us helps us to be the salt and light. Our hearts need to be open to recognize the needs of others.
Sometimes the needs are obvious. This winter we are continually reminded of the needs of the poor for shelter from the cold and clothing to keep them warm. The hungry are in need of food. The sick need care for their health. Some people need help with transportation or shopping.
Other times the needs might not be as obvious. The homebound might need company. Some people might need to be forgiven. Others might be suffering from hidden hurts. Education is needed for those who might be ignorant. Spiritual healing might be needed for others.
Jesus tells us to be salt and light for the world. In assisting others in their needs we become the salt and light so that, as Jesus says, “they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.