by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente missionaries
New York, February 09, 2020 | Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Isaiah 58: 7-10; First Letter to the Corinthians 2: 1-5; Saint Matthew 5:13-16.
Salt is a very reactive agent and has the tendency to attract substances in its environment and quickly bind with it to create new substances.
And we know that light is “something” that is always vibrating or, if you prefer, traveling.
It takes a lot of clumsiness not to understand that in today’s Gospel Christ is speaking of something more than religion, of much more than an alternative for our life: He is referring to how we have been created, as essentially communicative beings, already in real relationship with others, independently of our convictions, intentions, experiences and of our moral life. Clearly, Jesus expects His disciples to make a difference in the lives of our fellowmen.
Whether we like it or not, whether we are conscious or not, this relationship has consequences, as does the contact of light with the eyes and the union of salt with food.
Christ did not say: If you would just be better you would be the light of the world. No, He says WE ALREADY ARE salt and light, simply by virtue of the fact that we seek to follow Him, have been redeemed by His love.
By being his disciples, Christ is giving us the opportunity to be who we really are, to live fully as salt and light of the world, which is possible if we bestow our bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted (1st Reading).
What does it mean to be the light of the world? Allow me to start with an example.
A homeless man walked into a church. He didn’t look like he belonged to the parish community: wild hair, t-shirt and jeans with holes in it and no shoes. On the day he went, the church was packed and he could not find a seat. As he got closer to the front, realizing there was nowhere to sit, he just squatted down right on the carpet. You could cut the tension with a knife.
Finally, an older parishioner in his 80s, wearing a three-piece suit began walking with his cane down the aisle toward him. As he walked towards the man, the church was totally silent, except for the clicking of the cane. Finally, the man reached him. He drops his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to him and worships with him so he won’t be alone. The old man was Jesus for that person. Perhaps the people remembered the sermon that day. But they would never forget the elderly man’s testimony.
Light affects the environment by being distinctive. The power of light is amazing. The smallest amount of light destroys darkness. Such is the power of the smallest amount of light, that it in effect obliterates darkness. Jesus tells us that our lives should stand out in such a manner, not so that people might think that we are wonderful, but so that God’s presence and love might be made known. Our humble actions in the world should not make people stand back in awe of us, but should be such that every human being, especially the little ones, the weak and those who feel most enslaved by sin, feel the presence and mercy of God in their lives.
The famous Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004) once said: People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. May the light of Christ within us burn with beauty, as we offer our lives open-handedly, with freedom and joy.
We need to be careful to ensure that the works we do in His name are done only in that spirit. We should not be performing works simply to boast of our own goodness and godliness. This is the admonition given in Matthew 6:1: Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. This is a real story:
As a boy, John never knew where his mother Sue slipped off for a few hours on Christmas Eve each year. She’d grab her car keys, mutter something about running errands and scurry out the back door.
After his mother died in 1990, John received a letter from a man named Robert who had worked with her at a factory:
I don’t know if you know what your mom did for us, and John thought, No, I just knew that she left, and the letter continued: She was playing Santa Claus for my kids.
Robert apparently had a house full of children and not much money. Sue would bring them shoes, shirts, jeans, toys and candy. I just wanted you to know how much my family and I appreciate what your mother has done for us all these years, the man’s letter stated.
To be a light for the world means speaking about the truth and freedom that we have discovered in Christ (without this condition, our word is pure farce). It also means naming the evil that we encounter and loving those ensnared by it, accompanying them to lead them to the encounter with Christ, who is the only one who can set them free and bring light to their darkness.
Usually, it is a matter of doing very simple things, like the old man in our first story or Sue’s Christmas activity, but first we must ask in prayer if our action really comes from God. As the First Reading says: Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
He will make his presence clear, which will contrast with our smallness and our weaknesses. But the important thing is that our neighbor will wonder: If this disciple of Christ, who is fragile and mediocre, lives a generosity and a service so surprising, will I also be able to change and discover my true being? This is the beginning of many conversions.
In Christ’s time, the rabbis said: As oil brings light to the world, so Israel is light of the world. They were referring to the fact that Israel believed itself the depositary of the wisdom of the law that God, by the mouth of Moses, had revealed to his people. Calling his disciples “light of the world” Jesus declares that the mission entrusted by God to Israel was destined to continue through them.
The proof that people have been caught by this light will be when they give glory to the Father who is in heaven. And let us not forget that this can happen immediately, or after a long time, or perhaps after the apostle has been the victim of hatred, envy or jealousy. But sooner or later, perhaps at the moment of meeting God the Father, those who have known the apostle will give eternal thanks with all their hearts for his life.
And how can we be salt of the earth? Like salt, we are called to add value to what others are doing. And this is a beautiful image of the virtue of honor, of the one who discovers the best in every human being, of the one who seeks the ecstasy of others to grow every day. Unless, we make this positive contribution to the lives of our fellowmen we are not living out the Gospel.
Salt is capable of having an influence that far greater than you would think because of its insignificant size. One apostle in a class; one disciple of Christ on a team; or a missionary in any group can have an influence that reveals the power of quality over quantity. This means the numbers are not the key to our hope.
This also explains why we should be everywhere in our culture, in the schools, industry, and business of all kinds. In the arts and sciences, and anywhere where it is not inherently evil to be.
The life of St. Paul helps us to understand why we can be salt even if we are very limited and ignorant. He himself lacked skills as an orator and that was clearly seen in Athens, where he tried unsuccessfully to convince the listeners by resorting to the sublime language of the philosophers (Acts 17:16-34) or at Troas, where during one of his sermons, a young man had fallen asleep and fell from the window (Acts 20:9).
We know that the word of God is strong in itself and its penetration into the heart of persons does not depend on human means, rather it is the demonstration of the Spirit and his power (1Cor 2:4). By his divine will, his miracles are performed with the modest contribution of some human being who, in his smallness, accepts to be an instrument, or ingredient, for the work of the Spirit.
As an ingredient the two major uses of salt are, one to prevent foods from becoming damaged, and the other of enhancing the flavor of food. It is the task of the disciples of Jesus to improve the life of others and to preserve the very essence of what it is to be human.
Where no one reminds or presents the gospel values, corruption, hatred, violence, and oppression propagate. In a world where, for example, the inviolability of human life from its beginning to its natural end is doubted, the Christian believer is salt that reminds of its sacredness. Where each one seeks one’s own advantage, the disciple is salt that preserves, always recalling everyone the heroic proposal, the gift of self.
The disciples must bring to the world a wisdom capable of giving flavor and meaning to life. Without the knowledge of the gospel, what sense would life, joys and sorrows, smiles and tears, celebrations and mourning be? What dreams and hopes could nourish humans on this earth? It would be difficult to go beyond those suggested by the Old Testament: It is better to eat, drink and enjoy the good things in the few days of life that God gives: this is the fate of man (Ecl 5:17).
As Christ’s disciples, we are called to proclaim faith in the world and give hope to humanity who cannot feel the presence of God. We do this by being the salt of the earth and light of the world. To be the salt of the earth is to transform life, to add flavor into the boring and meaningless life of society. We are called to make a difference in people’s lives, by giving them meaning and purpose. Saint Paul knew this symbolism and this is why he recommends: Let your conversation be always pleasant, seasoned with salt (Col 4:6).
Finally, Christ warns us that salt should not become tasteless nor can light be hidden under a bowl. This is not simply a sin, but an act against our nature and against the gifts that God is continually bestowing upon us. The failure to develop what we have been given will lead to the loss of the gifts. Indeed, the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. It is just like those who have the gift of writing, painting or music. If they do not continue to write, paint or play music, they will lose them eventually. The best way to keep anything is to give it away. The best way to keep our faith is to share it.
The lack of prayer life is the primary cause of losing zeal and enthusiasm in our mission. The lack of intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity is the cause of eventually losing our relationship with the divine persons.
What we need to do is to renew our lives in the Holy Spirit. We need to continuously renew our relationship with Him, contemplating on the Word of God and receiving the sacraments with devotion.