5th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

6 February 2011

Isaiah 58: 7 – 10
1 Cor: 2:1 – 5
Matthew 5.13 – 16


A certain man was invited by his friends to a local restaurant for a meal. After having tasted the food he asked for the salt. As far as he was concerned the meal needed some salt to give it flavour. Apparently the cook had forgotten to add salt.

Jesus in today’s gospel uses some images to describe what his disciples are like. The first image is that of salt. As we know good salt is very pure so one of its functions is to purify. Another is to preserve. And as already mentioned to give flavour.

And Jesus is saying this to his disciples ‘you are the salt of the earth’.

He doesn’t say that they should become the salt of the earth. By his very calling of them they have a certain quality about them. But of course we know as he himself states that salt can become tasteless. And then it loses its value. It is also interesting to remember that salt is never actually seen in the food when it is put on the table. It remains hidden in the food and a little amount is usually all that is necessary. Salt does not draw attention to itself though it is used to give flavour, to improve the taste of the meal. Jesus in using a very ordinary well known commodity like salt is teaching his followers that they too wherever they find themselves are to be people who can purify and preserve his teachings so as to hand them on to others. For the most part his disciples are very ordinary people. They are not meant to draw attention to themselves. What they are asked to do is to live as true disciples of Jesus, so that people will be drawn to Jesus himself and not to them. And most of the time this work will be hidden – husbands, wives, children, business people, craftsmen, teachers, farmers etc. quietly going about their daily business but doing it as true disciples of Jesus.

Another image used by Jesus in this short passage is that of light.  He tells his disciples that they are to be the light of the world as he is. Jesus once said “I am the Light of the world”. For many of us living in the so-called First World with electricity available all the time the image of light may not be so striking. It is probably taken for granted nearly all the time. Many who live in developing countries, as in Africa, have no electricity available and when evening came lanterns or torches are needed see where one is going. A small light, even a flashlight could really light up the way and so the importance of light was underlined. Again, like salt, light has no value in being light for itself – its importance comes from the value it has for others. Again Jesus is asking us his followers to be like that.

Some lights, especially very large ones will light up a large area, others quite small do the same for smaller spaces. We see the same in people. People like Mother Teresa of Calcutta even though a small frail woman was a very large light on the world scene. She would constantly say that any good she may have done came from her close relationship with Jesus who for her was the Light who inspired her. She was in many ways like the moon. The moon has no light in itself, it merely reflects on to the earth the light it receives from the sun. She tried to be a reflection of Jesus, the Light of the world. She gave a meaning, importance to so many people dying in Calcutta. And because of her incredible witness many other people joined her in her work. Others are people like Nelson Mandela who in spite of the way he was so harshly treated for many years in prison in South Africa preached reconciliation instead of revenge when he was eventually released after 27 years.

Jesus then in speaking to his disciples and to us in today’s gospel is telling all of us that though we may think we are weak and insignificant we are very necessary for carrying on his work to bring about his kingdom here on earth. The gifts given to each of us by God are not given for private use but must be communicated to others. They must shine through the weakness of its bearers. We can’t all be like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela but we can be the best we can be wherever we are no matter how little we feel our contribution may be. That is all the Lord asks each of us.

So the good that we try to do is not meant to glorify ourselves but to glorify our Heavenly Father.  In today’s Gospel Matthew tells us that the light will be manifested in good works. As Isaiah says in the first reading these will be seen in precise deeds with very concrete benefits for our neighbours: sharing bread with the hungry, providing housing, clothing the naked, forgiveness etc.  If we do that ‘our light will rise in the darkness’ – the last verse of Isaiah today.

The Good News of today’s gospel is that Jesus is reminding each of us of our great vocation – that we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Jesus believes it of us.  Do we believe it of ourselves?

How can I be more the salt of the earth and light of the world this Lent?

“Lord Jesus, help us to believe that we are called to be salt of the earth and light of the world.  Give us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be what you ask of us.  Amen”.

Fr.Jim Kirstein, SMA

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