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SALT OF THE EARTH AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Father Francis's picture
Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Mt 5:13-16

Two of the greatest compliments Jesus ever paid His followers were “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” Why did Jesus use these images?

To appreciate why Jesus called us ‘the salt of the earth’ we must realise, that in His day, salt had at least two useful purposes. It was used as a preservative. In an age without refrigeration, salt was the principal preservative of meat and fish. In using this image about His followers, Jesus was saying that we were to be a good influence in the lives of people. The Christian must be a cleansing and preserving element by which he raises standards and makes it easier for others to be good. Christ’s standards are different from those of the world. The Christian must be the person who holds aloft the standard of goodness in speech, in conduct and in thought. Every Christian should do all he can to preserve the moral standards in a world where the streets of every great city provide their deliberate enticements of sin. The Christian cannot withdraw from the world, but while in the world, he must keep himself as St. James says, “unstained from the world”.

Another quality of salt is that it flavours food. Food without salt is bland. Christianity is to life as salt is to food. It lends flavour to life. So often people find Christians dull, lifeless and colourless. I heard someone say, "I could follow Christ but not His followers. Christ was full of goodness, inspiration and life but I can’t say the same about many of His followers." In other words what that person had discovered was that they had lost the flavour of their ‘salt’. People need to discover the lost flavour of the Christian faith. In an unhappy world, the Christian should radiate happiness. In an uncertain world, inspire hope. In an evil world, spread goodness. He is to be the salt of the earth and the means of spreading Christian joy.

Jesus went on to say that if salt becomes tasteless, it is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot. How can we prevent ourselves from becoming flat and useless? This can only be done through the Eucharist, Confession and a closeness to Christ in prayer.

The second compliment Jesus pays us is to call us the light of the world. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” Our light is a reflection of His. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so we should reflect the light of Christ. St. John Chrysostom writes, “It is easier for the sun not to shine, than for the Christian not to send forth light.” The radiance of the Christian comes from the presence of Christ within his heart.

When Jesus said the Christian must be the light of the world, what did He mean? A light is meant to be seen. Palestinian houses were very dark, with only one small window through which the light could shine. Their lamps were oil-filled saucers with floating wicks. They were not easy to rekindle. 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 was to be seen. Christianity is something which is meant to be seen.

It should not be visible only within the Church. A Christianity whose effects stop at the church door is not much use. It should be even more visible in the ordinary activities of the world. It should be visible in the way we treat a shop assistant, order a meal in a restaurant, treat our employees or serve our employer, play a game or drive or park a car, in the language we use, the literature we read. A Christian should be just as much a Christian in his workplace 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.”
A light is also meant to be a guide. Along an airport runway there are always lights to guide the planes safely to land. In the same way, a Christian must be a light making the way clear to others through good example. One of the things which this world needs more than anything else is people who are prepared to be examples of goodness. It is the Christian’s duty to take the stand which the weaker brother with less courage can follow. The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to do the right thing which they do not dare to do themselves.

A light can often be a warning-light like the light from a light-house telling sailors of danger ahead. We need, at times, to be a warning light, preventing our brothers and sisters from doing harm to themselves and others. A light which can be seen, which warns, and which guides, these are the lights a Christian must be.

Lord Jesus, You are calling us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You would not be calling us to be this salt and light unless You knew that we, attached to You, reflecting Your life, were fit for the task.

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