(See the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 5)
Jesus calls us to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Salt and light are two powerful images for the Christian life. They remind us of the great gift and responsibility we have “in sharing” and “sharing in” the life of Christ.
Today the expression “salt of the earth” is used to describe someone who is thoroughly decent. When we encounter a person who is genuinely kind, caring, humble, sincere, “down to earth,” this expression might come to mind. We like to come into contact with people like this. There is something about them that is attractive and life-giving. We might even think that they bring out the best in humanity.
This is the basis of what Jesus is getting at when he tells his followers they are “salt of the earth.” Salt is very important for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the two most fundamental are related to food. Used in cooking, salt brings out or enhances the natural flavor of the food being prepared. Salt can also be used as a preservative, to cure meats and other foods that would spoil without refrigeration. Salt then enhances and preserves.
One way of looking at this as applied to a follower of Christ is that it is our duty and responsibility to enhance and preserve. We enhance humanity and human existence by continuing the mission of Christ, being his presence today, living as he lived, teaching as he taught, loving as he loved, forgiving as he forgives. We preserve the gift of life and the way to life that has been handed on to us.
Both enhancing and preserving are done not for ourselves alone. Rather they are done for the world and everyone in it; for Jesus does not say “you are salt of your family” or “salt of the church” or “salt for soul,” but rather “salt of the earth.”
The same can be said of the second image Jesus uses to describe his followers – “light of the world.” Light is a great thing and central to life itself. In this example Jesus speaks of light being associated with good deeds. The basis of this “light” is faith — faith in Jesus, faith in his Father. Flowing from faith is the life of love and mercy through active participation in the life of the church. Jesus calls us to love. If our faith is separated from this it would be like putting the light under a bushel basket — it will go out. Faith is integral to and integrated within every aspect of our lives.
The prophet Isaiah gives us some examples of how we can be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Jesus gives us the prime example of these in his own life and speaks of them throughout the Gospel as well. “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.”
Isaiah goes on to say: “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
St. Paul in the passage from First Corinthians gives us an insight into living as “salt” and “light.” He says: “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.”
Jesus’ crucifixion and death are the ultimate “sign” and “act” of love. He loves completely. He is the seed that dies so that it can give life. He is the “salt” that is woven into the fabric of humanity. He is the “light” that overcomes darkness. Keeping this in mind we hear Paul say: “I came to you in weakness and fear and trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
Paul comes in the weakness of Christ to live as Christ lived so as to witness the power of the Gospel. This is how he was “salt” and “light.”
Jesus calls his disciples “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Jesus calls us “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” By living the life of faith we become “salt” and “light.”
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