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You are salt; you are light

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 58:7-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

In recent years, there has been an upsurge in salt interest. There are gourmet shops devoted solely to selling a variety of sea salts…truffle salt, smoked salt, pink sea salt; the list goes on and on. While for some, salt is still merely something that enhances the main dish. This was not always so.

In today’s Gospel, we are called “salt” and “light.” We quite easily understand the image of light. Our Christ-like actions shine like a light for all to see but what about calling the disciples salt? How did those to whom Jesus spoke understand these words?

Salt has played a vital role in nearly every civilization since the beginning of time. Animals forged trails to natural salt sources to satisfy their need for salt and primitive cultures obtained their salt from eating animal meat. Ancient Greeks exchanged their slaves for salt and the French Revolution is said to have been caused by a salt tax.

Over time, cultures learned that salt can preserve food and that there is a need for salt in our diets. Salt has also had a significant place in Hebrew worship. It was included in the Levitical offerings, since salt was emblematic of permanence or loyalty. Salt was also used to ratify covenants. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain numerous references to salt. In various contexts, it is used metaphorically to signify permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value and purification.

The image of light is more familiar to those who know the Scripture. It has been used to describe God, Israel and Jesus. Now Jesus reminds us of the single lamp that could be found in the small home of a Jewish peasant. And then there is the city on a hill, perhaps Jerusalem, whose very location made it obvious.

Salt, a lamp and a city — all objects that Jesus uses to draw attention to something else. Like the salt that is for the sake of something else and the light that illumines, Jesus’ disciples are called to bring attention to him.

All too often the world seems uncommonly dull to its inhabitants. Many live in spiritual darkness. Countless others live lives “of quiet desperation.” Perhaps this is because we are not doing our jobs as Christ’s disciples. We are not letting our light shine. We are not enhancing the image of the Christian in the world. The First Reading tells us how we can do this: “Share your bread...clothe the naked...shelter the oppressed...then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

In the streets of our city there are countless homeless, hungry and oppressed people. The food pantries are nearly empty. The generosity of the Christmas season has been dissipated. People are concentrating on their own emptiness: an emptiness that can be filled by reaching out to others. Being the light will bring us the Light.

We Christians promise at this Eucharist to fill the world with the zest of Christian living. We pledge to catch others in the spirit of our enthusiasm. We promise to make our life-giving faith transparent to the non-believer. This promise is to be carried to the streets of the city, into the country lanes, classrooms, department stores, offices and assembly lines. It is shown in the life we live from celebration to celebration.

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