The past few weeks we have been following the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus in the Sunday and daily gospel passages. Sunday mostly from Matthew; daily from Mark. We have heard him proclaim the Kingdom calling for repentance. The “repentance” is tied to a change of mindset or view of life – from the way the world looks at life to God’s vision for life. We’ve been hearing him describe living in this world but not being bound by it. Life in the Kingdom frees us to love and forgive; it strengthens us to face life’s challenge and not be overcome by them; it instills in us peace and joy.
At times in the ministry, Jesus uses images to describe the Kingdom of God. Sometimes He uses the family as an image, wherein the family members refer to God as “Our Father,” (cf. Matthew 6:9ff; Luke 10:22ff). Sometimes He uses the meal image such as a feast or reference to the “table.” (for example, the Eucharist institution passages; the “feast” in the story of the Prodigal Son etc.). In this case members have a seat at the table. Sometimes He uses a home or house. Here there are rooms prepared for the disciples (cf. John 14:2ff). Or sometimes He uses this image as being built on a firm foundation (cf. Matthew 7:24ff). Sometimes He uses the image of a treasure, for example the “pearl of great worth” (cf. Matthew 13:45ff). Here the person finding it goes and sells all they have to buy the land on which the pearl was found. Later New Testament writings will use the term “citizens” to describe our participation in the Kingdom. (cf. Ephesians 2:19; Philippians 3:20).
Today we hear a passage where Jesus uses the images of “salt” and “light” to describe his disciples (who as His disciples are becoming members of or participating in the Kingdom of God). He is pretty direct in speaking to them – “You are the salt of the Earth” and “You are the light of the world.” His words speak of a great confidence that He has in His disciples (then and now). He shares with them the responsibility of sharing the gift of love which is life in the Kingdom (cf. I Corinthians 13:1ff). He shares with them and us the call to proclaim to and to invite others to participate in the Kingdom of God.
“Salt” and “light” are powerful metaphors for us. Let’s think about “salt.” A few years ago, there was an article in the Guardian newspaper about salt. The author opened the story writing: “Ferran Adria [famous Spanish chef] once declared salt ‘the only product that changes cuisine.’ This is because, as he and all seasoned cooks know, sodium chloride not only adds saltiness, which human beings innately adore (because we need it to live), but it also skews the overall flavor to positive effect. It makes food sing by suppressing bitterness, enhancing sweet and savory, and turning up the volume on aromas.”
It is pretty amazing of what a simple amount of salt can do to a meal. It is also amazing that Jesus uses this image to describe what effect citizens of the Kingdom can have on the world in which we live. Unfortunately, we know Christians can do and have done bad things; however, in a lot of these cases they have not internalized the Kingdom within them – Jesus addresses this issue elsewhere. However, that does not take away from what Jesus is saying here – his disciples have the ability to draw goodness and love out of the people we encounter and engage and by that to transform the world.
A similar concept is expressed by “light.” Light dispels darkness. As applied to Christians, when they act as “light” the darkness of grief, sorrow, pain, anger, isolation, despair, and so forth can be dispelled.
Jesus gives us some very practical ways of being “salt” and “light” in the gospel. Some of these are reflected in the first and second reading for today’s liturgy.
First, the passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul actually provides us a witness to how he has been “salt” and “light.” At the core of his proclamation and interaction with the Corinthians (and by extension to all the peoples and communities which he established or visited) is Jesus and Him crucified. This is the proclamation of love supreme. Love which conquers evil and manifests its victory in resurrection.
Paul writes: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, 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.”
Christ Jesus, who suffered, died and rose from the dead, is the central proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Everything else flows from this.
The first reading from Isaiah prepares for many of Jesus’ particular teachings on communal life in the Kingdom, a Kingdom to which all are invited to participate. Jesus’ teachings are firmly rooted in the covenant with Israel. Here love is manifest in concrete, real and significant action: “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…remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…satisfy the afflicted then “light shall rise from you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” In Jesus’ public ministry we hear him speak of these but we also see them take flesh in Him.
Jesus speaks to us today, as he did to those first disciples. He says to us as he said to them: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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