Salt and Light

A Reflection by Fr. Peter for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 58:7-10 – 1 Cor 2:1-5 – Mt 5:13-16.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world’. Let’s have a look at why it was that Jesus chose ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to describe the way His disciples should be and act.

In Jewish practice, sacrifices are offered with salt to ensure their purity. In the Old Testament, during the early days of the prophet Elisha, he purified water by adding salt to it (cf. 2 Kings 2:19-22). Here we see the prefiguration of the Christian rite of the blessing of Holy Water, of which salt is an essential component. The water of the Dead Sea, which has a high salt content, is in demand for its alleged healing powers. Salt, as the element NaCl, is known for its power to purify. Christians are called to become agents of purity, so that whenever we find ourselves in challenging situations we can make them significantly less toxic, we can bring healing and we can infuse sanctity.

Salt is a preservative. In the days before freezers were invented, salt was used to keep meat from ‘going off’. We can understand ‘saltiness’ (in the best possible sense, not in a vulgar sense) in a Christian as being ‘preserved from sin’. We are called to ‘be salt’ so that whenever we find ourselves coming up against corrupting agents in our society, we can act as preserving agents, putting the brakes on decay and corruption. A ‘salty’ Christian aims to be pure by resisting selfishness and the temptation to put himself/herself first. When a Christian is strong in self-mastery and strong in virtue, that ‘salty’ person will be able to accomplish an awful lot of good in his/her life.

Salt is a seasoning agent too. Imagine the bland taste of a meal without any salt. Now, go on to imagine the taste of life devoid of Christian love and sacrifice. William Barclay famously said that ‘Christianity is to life what salt is to food’. Christians are tasked with the duty of giving flavour to life. So, a ‘salty’ Christian will do much to make the world a better place for others because of his/her capacity to carry out good deeds. But let’s also bear in mind that our being ‘salty’ depends on our becoming one with Jesus! It is simply not possible for us to preserve ourselves from sin. Only Jesus can preserve us from sin, and we have to ask Him to do it. Furthermore, it is only by His grace that we can bear Christ to others … that we can become ‘the salt of the earth’.

So, our being ‘salty’, being good, being Christlike, demonstrates to the world that it is Christ who is at work in us. This phenomenon cannot be hidden. And because Christ is at work in us, our good deeds become as ‘light’ that attracts others to Christ because the Lord can be seen in us and through us. Light illumines and clarifies. Lightbulbs are designed to give out light and dispel darkness. This reflects our calling as Christians: to dispel the darkness of evil that has enshrouded the world.

And light guides, helping us to find our way in the dark. Can you imagine how difficult and dangerous it would be if someone were to try to drive their car at night without putting on the headlights? When we come to the realization that God really exists, that God really is a personal God Who loves us, we see everything in a new light – as if the sun has come out – and we become agents of light that allow God to be seen through us. Our vocation is to convince people of the relevance of God’s grace and holiness. Light can dazzle: no one is able to look directly into the sun (and nor should they try) without being dazzled. A beam of light can start a fire: no one is able to put their hands into a fire without getting burnt. The Christian life stands as a light, a beacon, that dazzles the eyes of those who glory in evil, and as a burning furnace against the wiles of the devil. It is the duty of each Christian to overcome darkness by making a stand against injustice, bad government policies and abuses of human rights including the denial of the right to worship God.

Christians become salt when we love. Just as the importance of salt is revealed by what it does – when salt is dissolved in water, the water’s purified; when salt is added to food, the food’s seasoned; when salt is rubbed into meat, the meat’s preserved – the importance of living the Christian life is revealed by what we do regarding the immersion of our saltiness in love and sacrifice.

We Christians become light to the world when we serve. Just as the importance of light is revealed in its beam – when we put the light on in darkness, the light shines; it has the capacity to guide, dazzle and start a fire – the importance of living the Christian life is revealed by what we do regarding our mission to be light to others.

What salt and light have in common is that, in doing what they’re supposed to do, they operate in the background. They become almost invisible. Salt is invisible in food, yet the taste of the food is enhanced. Light makes something visible or brighter while the source of light becomes subservient. So, if we really do become salt and light to the world – if we love and serve as disciples of Jesus – the spotlight is not on ourselves but on Jesus Christ. This was the testimony of St. Paul in the 2nd Reading: during my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Like St. Paul, we do this by the witness of our lives, loving and serving in good works as proposed by Isaiah to the people of Israel in the 1st Reading: share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, clothe the man you see to be naked and turn not from your own kin, then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over. Yes, it is indeed profitable to us to serve and to love. If we love to live, then we must live to love. Amen. God bless you.