“You are the salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13)
Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
As a young lad, I used to go on holidays to my mother’s home place in Kerry. I can still see the pieces of salted bacon, hanging from the rafters. With no fridges in those days, every farmer’s wife was an expert in salting bacon.
Thousands of years ago, salt was used as a form of currency. It never lost its value. How often do we hear the criticism, “there is no salt in it.” Salt has also medicinal properties. They say, that for a sore throat, gargle in hot water and salt. In the light of the salt image of today’s Gospel, I believe, that the world is full of ordinary people, whose very lives are salted with sanctity.
Sanctity is not an abstract thing, a caviar for a privileged few mystics and saints. I believe, sanctity is as common as salt.
In today’s Gospel, take note, Jesus did not say, “you are like the salt of the earth.” No, he said, “you are the salt of the earth.” He is giving a big compliment to his listeners and disciples. It’s an appropriate one too for fishermen, who salted fish.
Jesus went further in another basic image, that of light. “You are the light of the world,” not “you are like the light of the world”. It’s another compliment for his listeners and disciples.
In the time of Christ, oil lamps were the electricity of their day. A lamp was simply a wick in a bowl of oil. They need oil. No oil, no light.
Jesus is telling his listeners, thatthe lamp of God’s love burns in this world, only with the oil of our good lives. This is still true today, light is a bye product of good deeds. Good intentions are like firewood, piled and ready in the fireplace, useless, until the match of action sets it alight.
If Jesus sees sanctity in the lives of ordinary people, “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world,” who are we to disagree? Let us learn, then, from today’s Gospel.
The Temple priests had a habit of talking down, and putting down, the ordinary working class people of their day, the very people God selected. Their self-righteous arrogance is best expressed in the prayer of the Pharisee in the Temple. I quote: “God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of people.” (Lk.18:11)
In Mt. 23:4 Jesus also accused them of laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of ordinary people.
The hands of our own clergy in the past were not clean either, as they did the same things. Did they not threaten the people with hell fire for all eternity, if they did not go to Mass on Sunday, or if they ate meat on Friday?
The days of putting people down are long gone. So are the days of threatening them with hell’s fire. We should follow the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
People need to be told from the altar how good they are. Praise them for their achievements, and for their resilience in times of difficulties of all kinds. We should use words of encouragement, and a helping hand, not a wagging finger.
Jesus also accused the religious authorities of his day. I quote: “You abandon the commandments of God,
And hold to human traditions” (Matthew 7:8). The institutionalised Church has done the same thing over the centuries, as it moved away from basic Gospel values, and replaced them with a host of laws and regulations.
They gave the people, not the God of the Gospels, but a false God,a God, chiselled from granite with a heart of stone, a God with a stick in his hand.
One of the aberrations that took hold in the Church early on, was the idea that the body was bad. Sinful flesh they called it. So-called “holy people” flogged themselves to punish their bodies. St. Augustine’s negative attitude to sex is still with us today. Jansenism is a modern form of it.
Jesus sanctifies forever the human body in the Incarnation. It has the indelible mark of God on it. God put on the garment of our flesh. That garment is holy, is sacred, and is not to be defied or desecrated.
In fact, we are all mobile homes of the divine, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Or as Peter was told in Acts 10:15, “What God made clean, you have no right to call unclean.”
We were privileged to be part of the African Church, and were influenced by its freshness and vibrancy, and escaped the rigours, and diseases of a Western Church. Even here in Ireland and elsewhere, you will always find people who will rise above the system.
We must sweep away the accumulated debris of centuries, of human laws and regulations, that have long since become irrelevant to the lives of people, and return to the bedrock of Christ, and to basic Gospel values. Pope Francis is meeting with huge opposition from some quarters, in his attempt to return to the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of Mercy.
Let us see sanctity in ordinary struggling people, who live lives, where the love of God, and self- sacrifice is as common as salt on their tables. These ordinary people have faults and failings, so had the saints. There are saints in the making around us everywhere. The oil of their ordinary honest lives, burns everyday before God, and the Church, so often, fails to see it. It is ordinary people like these that Jesus is praising today.
Sanctity, then, for me, is as common as salt. It has mud on its shoes, cracks in its working hands.
Love of God, and of its neighbour is the currency in its pocket.
Its kindness and compassion has no sell by date. It is as perennial as the grass. It has a light in its eyes, that won’t go out in a storm. Disciples and people, let us all accept the praise of Jesus, in today’s Gospel, and give it to others.
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
I will finish with a poem that I met recently, that sums up sanctity. I quote:
The healing hands I’ve seen them,
The hands that scrubbed the floor.
The hungry hands on a Winter’s day
Knocking at a door.
The trembling hands of trembling minds,
The wedded hand that baked the bread,
Smiling hands held a new born babe,
The hands that washed the dead.
The callous hands of workers,
Cracked, broken by the years,
The hand that raised the fallen,
The hand that wiped the tear.
I’ve seen the hands of many,
Read the scripted palms of most,
In a queue of Sunday morning hands,
Held out for the host.
Fr Tim Carroll SMA, SMA Cork