The Light of the World & Salt of the Earth, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), February 10, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fifth Sunday of OT, Year A
February 10, 2002
Is 58-7-10; Ps 112; 1Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

1) In today’s readings, Jesus tells us two crucial truths about who we are as his disciples and who we are called to be. He says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is our vocation to be this salt and this light for the earth and the world. But to live this vocation more effectively, to be this salt and this light, we need to understand more why Jesus used these images.

2) You are the salt of the Earth. In the ancient world, salt had two purposes. The first was as the most common preservative. It was used to keep things from going bad, and to hold putrefaction at bay. Salt preserves from corruption. If the Christian is to be the salt of the earth, he must have a certain antispetic influence on life. We all know that there are certain people in whose company it is easy to be good; and that also there are certain people in whose company it is easy for standards to be relaxed. There are certain people in whose presence a bad story would readily be told, and there are other people to whom no one would dream of telling such a tale. The Christian must be the cleansing antiseptic in any society in which he happens to be; he must be the person who by his presence defeats corruption and makes it easier for others to be good. One of the characteristics of the world in which we live is the lowering of standards. Standards of honesty, standards of diligence in work, standards of conscientiousness, moral standards, all tend to be lowered. The Christian must be the person who holds aloft the standard of goodness in speech, in conduct, even in thought. No Christian can depart from the standards of strict honesty. No Christian can think lightly of the lowering of moral standards in a world where the streets of every great city, the television and now the Internet, provide their deliberate enticements to sin. No Christian can allow himself the tarnished and suggestive jests which are so often part of social conversation. The Christian cannot withdraw from the world, but he must, as Saint James said, keep himself “unstained from the world.”

3) But the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that salt lends flavor to things. Food without salt is a sadly insipid and even a sickening thing. Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity lends flavor to life. The tragedy is that so often people have connected Christianity with precisely the opposite. They have connected Christianity with that which takes the flavor out of life. A former Supreme Court Justice once said, “I might have entered sacred ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers.” Men need to discover the lost radiance of the Christian faith, the lost brilliant joy. In a worried world, The Christian should be the man who remains serene. In a depressed world, the Christian should be the man who remains full of the joy of life. there should be a sparkle about the Christian but too often he dresses like a mourner at a funeral and takes all the fun out of company. Wherever he is, if he is to be the salt of the earth, the Christian must be the diffuser of joy.

4) Jesus went on to say that, if the salt had become insipid, it was fit only to be thrown out and trodden by men. How does salt go flat? And how can we prevent ourselves from going flat and making ourselves useless, worthy to be thrown out and trampled upon? Salt goes flat by being dissolved or substituted by other substances. You remember your inorganic chemistry. The only way you can separate the sodium from the chloride, if we take the most well-known salt, is to separate the two substances by water or by other cations or anions. In the same way, the way you, as salt, will lose your flavor is if you get dissolved or separated. From what? From Jesus, who is right here in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament. Think of it in this way: He’s the Sodium and you’re the Chloride. If you get separated from him, your salt will be useless. And the devil’s prowling like a bunch of Potassium Cyanide just trying to separate the two of you.

5) Jesus says to us, like he said to his disciples 2000 years ago, you are the light of the world. It may well be that this is the greatest compliment that was ever paid to the individual Christian, for in it Jesus commands the Christian to be what he himself is. Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When Jesus commanded his followers to be the light of the world, he demanded nothing less than that they should be like himself. No man kindles his own life. The light with which the Christian must shine is a borrowed light. We must shine with the reflection of his light, reflecting his light like a mirror, or like the moon reflects the light of the Sun. The radiance which shines from the Christian comes from the presence of Christ within the Christian’s heart. When Jesus said that the Christian must be the light of the world, what did he mean?

6) A light is first something which is meant to be seen. The houses in Palestine were very dark with only one little circular window perhaps not more than eighteen inches across. The lamp was like a sauce-dish filled with oil with the wick floating in it. It was not so easy to rekindle a lamp in the days before matches existed. Normally the lamp stood on the lampstand which would be no more than a roughly shaped branch of wood; but 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. The primary duty of the light of the lamp was to be seen. So, then, Christianity is something which is meant to be seen. As someone once said, “There can be no such thing as secret discipleship, because either the secrecy destroys the discipleship, or the discipleship destroys the secrecy.” A man’s Christianity should be perfectly visible to all men. Furthermore, this Christianity should not be visible only within the Church. A Christianity whose effects stop at the church door is not much use to anyone. It should be even more visible in the ordinary activities of the world. Our Christianity should be visible in the way we treat a shop assistant across the counter, in the way we order a meal in a arestaurant, in the way we treat our employees or serve our employer, in the way we play a game or drive or park an automobile, in the daily language we use, in the daily literature we read. A Christian should be just as much a Christian in the factory, the workshop, the shipyard, the mine, the schoolroom, the hospital, the kitchen, the golf course, the playing field as he is in church. Jesus did not say, “You are the light of the Church,” but rather “you are the light of the world.” The Christianity of a man’s life in the world should be evident to all.

7) A light is also meant to be a guide. At the airport, along the runaway, there are always lights to guide the planes safely to land. Before the days of street lights, it was very hard to see at night. A light is something to make clear the way. In the same way, a Christian must be a light making the way clear to others. That is to say, a Christian must of necessity be an example. One of the things which this world needs more than anything else is people who are prepared to be examples of goodness. Suppose there is a group of people, and suppose it is suggested that some questionable thing should be done. Unless someone makes his protest the thing will be done. But if someone rises and says,” I will not do that,” another another and another and another will rise to say, “Neither will I.” But, had they not been given the lead, the good example, they would have remained silent. There are many people in this world who do not have the moral strength and courage to take a stand by themselves, but if someone gives them a lead, they will follow; if they have someone strong enough to lean on, they will do the right thing. It is the Christian’s duty to take the stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow. The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to take the stand and to do the thing which they do not dare to do themselves.

8 ) 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 fellow men the necessary warning. That is often difficult, and it is often hard to do it in a way which will not do more harm than good; but one of the most poignant tragedies in life is for someone, especially a young person, to come and say to us, “I would never have been in the situation in which I now find myself, if you had only spoken in time.” We need, at times, to be that warning light, preventing from brothers and sisters from doing harm to themselves and others. The light which can be seen, the light which warns, the light which guides, these are the lights which the Christian must be.

9) Jesus is calling us, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And he would not be calling us to be this salt and light unless he knew that we, attached to him, reflecting his life, were fit for the task.