Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time 2011 Mass and Reflections: Salt of The Earth, Light of The World

Mass readings for Sunday are here and reflections are here

Reading 1. Isaiah 58 :7-10 
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Reading Two 1:Corinthians: 2: 1-5
When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,

but with a demonstration of Spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.

Gospel Matthew 5: 13-16

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You are the salt of the earth.

But if salt loses its taste, 

with what can it be seasoned?

It is no longer good for anything

but to be thrown out

and trampled underfoot.


You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.

Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Some Reflections

In a certain time and place salt was a very valuable substance!
Salt drove economies, opened trade routes and settlements, even sparked bitter wars.

Salt has always been one of the most prized commodities, essential both for life and for preserving food. Roman soldiers were paid an allowance to buy salt, the origin of our word salary. A person worth his/her salt is efficient ,capable and trustworthy.

To eat salt with someone was to accept their hospitality and a person who did so was bound to look after their host’s interests. The Bible also speaks of a covenant of salt, one of holy and perpetual obligation. Newborn children were anciently rubbed with salt to protect them against evil forces.

For Jesus to say "You are the salt of the earth" was a great compliment. To understand His comment fully, though, you have to know a bit about where Jews of His time got their salt. Some came from saltpans on the margins of the Dead Sea, but much was obtained from Mount Sodom (Jebel Usdum in Arabic), a ridge of limestone and rock salt at the south-west corner of the Dead Sea (a pillar of salt here is said to have given rise to the legend of Lot’s wife). 
Image Dead sea : Man reading newspaper: Wikimedia

This rock salt was the literal salt of the earth. Because the deposit’s outer layer was exposed to the elements, it became contaminated and its salt content depleted by weathering, losing its taste and value, so becoming good for nothing.

I reflect how often I have become depleted by the world so that  my taste for anything to do with God has dulled and become insensitive.How often have my comments become insipid and tasteless and how often have I wasted away time so that I can do anything but engage with God ?

There is also the expression 'take it with a grain of salt' to mean skepticism and to have reservations. 
It came from salt being thought to be a cure for poison so to take your food with salt basically meant you thought the food could have been poisoned.

Often these verses have been used to encourage individuals. But in the Greek "You" is plural."You people" You people as a community are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
So maybe Jesus had in mind a community,  who would demonstrate to the world there is a different way to  live out the Sermon on the Mount,  in the way they live together. 
in the way they sort out their differences, in the way they are faithful to each other, in the way they are people of integrity, doing what they say will do, in the way they don’t retaliate and love each other despite differences.

We need to be careful not to overseason our faith too !
In Sanskrit it is written ; " Necessity changes a course but never a goal. Joan Chittister commenting on Benedictine spirituality and the rule of Benedict says spirituality should be flexible and realistic at all times, sets loud clear goals but models a number of ways to achieve them. 

Benedict was aware that spirituality was neither a formula nor a straitjacket. "Nothing,"he writes "is to be preferred to the Work of God ", and yet when the ideal is confronted by the real, Benedict opts for the sanctification of the real rather than the idealisation of the holy.

In the same vein Fr.Ron Stephens says :

"In our culture we take salt for granted, and often see it as a villain now due to the overuse of it.  But maybe that is part of the metaphor as well. Too much salt can be a bad thing – for one’s health, of course, but it can also ruin the flavour of a meal. Perhaps we need to look at this extreme as well when we are dealing with other people.
Only a little amount is needed to change the flavour of a situation and our light can shine if only for a few.
Jesus uses two very accessible and powerful metaphors to inform us about who we are and what we are about. Salt preserves and gives taste.Light is not affected by time. It exists out of time.

"You are the salt of the earth."
Jesus tells us who we are before he tells us what to do. You and I are salt. Jesus does not say that we will become salt or that we ought to be salt. 
As the salt of the earth, Jesus has set His followers apart.

In relation to salt itself, St Bede the Venerable says, “Salt is good. It is a good thing to season the secrets of the heart with the salt of spiritual wisdom. For salt in substance consists of water and air, having a slight mixture of earth, but it also dries up the fluent nature of corrupt bodies to preserve them from decay. 
Firstly Jesus compares His disciples to salt, so that after the manner of salt, they can change the lives of those they meet and by their own lives delight and season their followers.”

Salt causes thirst - there is a  thirst in people's lives - Jesus said : "if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink"  
Salt thaws ice on roads : so too can it thaw hardened hearts.
Jesus shows that there is a different way to live. 

In a world that is so often characterised by grudges, bitterness, unforgiveness, revenge, unfaithfulness, lying, hatred, Jesus calls us to a different way; to live it together, and to live it in such a way that others who don't understand can see there is a different way.

Can I become Christ's salt , preserving His word , reconciling, adding taste, giving meaning where there is no meaning, giving hope where there is no hope, reinforcing the quality and sacredness of life where it is discarded and commodified ?

A Chinese minister speaking on BBC Radio 4  said:
"We are called to be salt of the earth, and light to the world. This is not the same thing as making the whole earth salt, or setting the world on fire. 
Rather we are called to bring out the flavours of all the mixed ingredients that we come into contact with, and shine light to illuminate things of all shapes and sizes.

So if the expression "we are worth our salt" is to mean something we can try to salt life, wherever we meet it and bring out the diverse flavours of grace and hope wherever we find them.

Above shows a wall made of salt
bricks with different shades of rock salt under
light. Taken in Khewra Punjab, Pakistan Salt Mine.
( second largest in the world)
Depending upon the thickness (among other properties), the
salt rock glows when lit in many different shades. 

Source: English Cafe

Below a salt crystal under polarised light. 


Help me look for beauty, grace, truth and justice and let the light of Christ shine through the darkness of peoples lives.
Help me keep the messageof Christ fresh in my life and the lives of those I meet.
Help me to keep the zest and love of God alive and reflect it by my actions.

Help me so that my knowledge and love of God and it's impact on my life is never static.
There is always more to understand,always more  to love. Don't let me get stuck in a single definition or framework. Don't  stop me growing through exposure to new challenges. 

Don't let me get trapped is a  self-satisfied journey of personal self-improvement, content to have an experience of religion that might boil down to, “me and Jesus.” 

If in some small way I can be a city on a hill and a light on a lampstand: Let me be for others, not just in what I say but also in what I do and help me so I can refract the light and love of Jesus in a way that others can see clearly.

Above image :Cobble encrusted with halite from the western shore of the Dead Sea, Israel. Wikimedia

The hymn Christ Be Our Light by Bernadette Farrell 

This wonderful Salt and Light painting below is by Bernie Roseage who has this to say :

"Scripture is often the inspiration for my paintings. This still life I set up and painted from life is such an example. My inspiration comes from Jesus' words in Matthew... "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world." 

I think it cool the fact that one can associate salt with taste and thus the mouth and light with sight. Plainly put... our words (what comes out of our mouth) and actions (what others see us do) reveal who we really are."

Image above from Weekend expresso


Tim said...

Phil, this is magnificent. So much information here, all of it so splendidly applied. You've given us much to contemplate--and I assure you I'll never again hear Christ's statement about salt the same way. Thank you for this lovely gift!


Anonymous said...

Oh Phil, what a wonderful resource you have provided. Thank you for all of will really help for this weekend.

Philomena Ewing said...

Tim- I'm really pleased you liked this one.
Andie I am delighted that you are going to use it with your group. Knowing this makes it all the more worthwhile.
Thanks for the compliments both !