Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Readings: Is 58:7-10; Ps 112:4-9; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

  • We were moving to a new state after my husband had been out of work for many months and we had no money. In fact, we had to borrow money to reach our destination town. Anyway, it was my husband, 2 boys ages 4 and 2, and myself, 7 months pregnant, in an old Volvo station wagon. We had been driving for 2 days in the middle of winter (the car’s heater didn’t work), and we had taken a route that was very desolate. There was nothing around for miles – no cars, buildings, or signs of civilization. Suddenly, our car started losing power and the gauges went all haywire. We saw a light in the distance and managed to roll to a stop in front of this property that looked like a small humble residence. Our cell phones had not gotten reception for many miles, and it was freezing outside, so I didn’t know if we were going to make it out of this situation alive. My husband got out of the car to see if there was something he could do to get us rolling again, but it was not looking good. A short while later, a man came out of the residence and spoke with my husband a bit before inviting us all in to his home. He and his wife took us in, fed us, and made us feel at home as we scrambled to find some way to get to our destination, which was still a few hours drive away. We were able to call a friend and get a ride, leaving our broken car behind, but not before the couple gave us food and water for our journey. One week later, this dear sweet couple towed our car all the way to our place and refused to take anything in return, except for us to pay it forward… and we have, and will continue to do so forever. —– Submitted by Victoria Lancaster
  • A blind man went to visit his friend in the next village. It was night when he could return. His friend gave the blind man a lighted lamp as he said goodbye to him. Refusing to receive the lamp, the blind man said, “I don’t need this lamp, dear; I will use my stick to find my way. Nights and days are similar to me.” His friend said, “Keep it with you. It is not for you, but for others. If you carry this lighted lamp with you, others can see it. Then they will not collide with you.”The blind man started his journey carrying the lighted lamp with him. On the way, there was a storm. He waited under a tree and resumed his journey after the storm. Suddenly a stranger coming in the opposite direction collided with him and both of them fell down on the ground. The blind man shouted angrily, “Couldn’t you see the lighted lamp in my hand, man? Are you blind?” The stranger replied, “I am not blind but your lamp was not burning.” “I am sorry, dear”, said the blind man. “I am blind and did not know that the flame was put off by the storm.”We boast that we are the chosen children of God and that his grace will protect us from all evil. But the divine light shining in us gets extinguished by our sinful actions and then we may fall. Let us consciously guard the lamp of God shining in our hearts. It will illuminate us and enlighten everyone around us.“O Lord, you give me light; you dispel my darkness” {Psalms 18: 28}. “Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path” {Psalms 119: 105}. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world…whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness” {John 8: 12}.“Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” {Matthew 5: 16}.

In the First Reading of today Prophet Isaiah asks the people of Israel to be the shining light to all the people. He speaks in terms of justice and compassionate care for the weak, needy and vulnerable. He exhorts them to share their bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and the homeless, to clothe the naked when they see them, and not to turn their back on their own. For, through them the very goodness of God is revealed. And in that way, “your light shall break forth like the dawn.” He further reminds them that if they act justly then their integrity vindication will go before them and the glory of the Lord behind them and “light shall rise for you in the darkness.”

SHINING BY PROCLAIMING “JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED.”

In the Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, we also can see Paul being a light to the world. Paul tells them that he comes to them in all humility, that he is nothing in himself, but that the light of Christ shines through him because he only proclaims “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul’s preaching of the Good News is his way of doing what God has called him to do, not for his own glory, but so others may see the Spirit and the power of God. He too is trying to establish the new kingdom, but not by using the charisma of one person, but by letting the Gospel speak for itself

Gospel: When I was a seminarian, the pastor of my home parish in Goa, Aldona, St. Thomas Church, was a beloved elderly priest. He was very good to me, to my family, and to all the parishioners. I remember that he would often describe the parishioners of St. Thomas as “the salt of the earth.” Whenever he talked about the people he served with such love and devotion, he would say: “The parishioners of St. Thomas are the salt of the earth.” Today if we say someone is “the salt of the earth,” we understand that person to be solid and dependable, someone you can count on through thick and thin.

This expression “the salt of the earth” comes from Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount.

After teaching the Beatitudes, he said to the people: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”

Last March, I led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. One of the places we visited was the Mount of the Beatitudes, the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, upon which Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It was a great joy to celebrate Holy Mass at that holy place. Our tour guide gave a talk, which I still remember because he pointed out something that I had not really thought about before. He explained how dramatic the words of today’s Gospel were to the people Jesus was addressing. They were simple people, many of them poor. They had very ordinary and simple jobs. Some were fishermen, like Peter, James, and John. They lived in what was considered a rather unimportant and obscure area of the world, Galilee. What must they have thought when Jesus called them “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world?” We can ask that same question today, because Jesus also meant those words for us, His followers, His disciples, today.

Salt: The image of salt is a very ordinary, everyday image. In the time of Jesus (before refrigeration and preservation), salt was necessary for preserving meats and other foods, to keep them from spoiling.

Salt also adds flavor and zest to food. But if it loses its power to preserve and if it loses its flavor, it is of no use. When Jesus says “you are the salt of the earth,” he is telling us that we have the task on this earth to preserve and to give flavor. We are to preserve the new life of grace he has brought to our world. And we are to give flavor, that is, meaning and spice to people’s lives. Salt enhances the quality of food. Being salt, we can contribute to enhancing the quality of others’ lives.

( In the Old Testament we see first, salt was a critical necessity for human life, along with water, fire, and iron, as Sirach 39:26 states. Salt was important for seasoning and preserving food. Job questions, “Can a thing insipid be eaten without salt?” (Job 6:6). A second way in which salt was important was for liturgical functions. It was included with cereal offerings (Lev 2:13) and burnt offerings (Ezek 43:24). Blending salt with incense kept the fragrant powder pure and sacred (Exod 30:35). Salt was what Elisha used to purify a polluted spring of water (2 Kgs 2:19-22).

In Catholic liturgical tradition, the baptismal ritual included putting salt on the infant’s tongue, as a symbol of incorruptibility. Another way in which salt was used was to ratify covenants (Num 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). As a preservative, salt symbolized the lasting nature of the agreement. Finally, different kinds of salts are necessary for the soil to be fruitful, but soil that is “nothing but sulphur and salt” is a desert wasteland (Deut 29:22; Ps 107:34; Job 39:6). As a symbol of permanent destruction, conquerors would spread salt on a city they had razed (Judg 9:45). As Jesus called his disciples “salt,” they may have understood any of these meanings: they season and purify the world with God’s love, giving witness to divine fidelity that preserves life for all eternity.)

Life becomes tasty and full of flavor when it contains the salt of Jesus, his word, his loving kindness, his benevolence, his mercy and forgiveness. Jesus wants this spice of life to reach all people. He needs people who live it and make it visible. He needs disciples who are themselves “salt of the earth,” who bring the salt of Jesus to others, who manifest his kindness, compassion, and love. When his disciples lack kindness and mercy and love, they no longer bring this spice of life to others. Jesus says that if salt loses its taste, “it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Light: The meaning of the other image Jesus uses “the light of the world” is clear. Again, imagine how the people listening to the Sermon on the Mount must have felt when they heard those words. They lived in a relatively obscure place, in poor Galilee, yet Jesus told them they were the light for the whole world. Some may have thought that Jesus was exaggerating, but he wasn’t. It is true that none of them and none of us can be such a great light through our own efforts alone.

The role of Christians as Christ’s light of the world.

(i) A light is something which is meant to be seen. (The lamp in Palestine was like a sauce-boat full of oil with a wick floating in it. 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). Christians must be visible like a “city” on a hilltop and a lamp on a “lamp stand.” Jesus therefore expects his followers to be seen by the world (Jn 13:35; 17:21). In addition, they must radiate and give light. “Let your light shine before men” (Mt 5:16). By this metaphor Jesus means that our Christianity should be visible in the ordinary activities of the world, for example, in the way we treat a shop assistant across the counter, in the way we order a meal in a restaurant, in the way we treat our employees or serve our employer, in the way we play a game or drive or park a motor car, in the daily language we use, in the daily literature we read.

(ii) A lamp or light is a guide to make clear the way. So then, a Christian must make the way clear to others. That is to say, a Christian must of necessity be an example. “The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of Faith, God’s free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind. It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Our personal encounter with Christ bathes life in new light, sets us on the right path, and sends us out to be his witnesses.” (Youth Day message by Pope St. John Paul II). It is the Christian’s duty to take a stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow. The world needs its guiding lights. There are people waiting and longing for a leader to take a stand and to do the thing which they do not dare by themselves.

iii) A light can often be a warning light. A light is often the warning which tells us to halt when there is danger ahead. It is sometimes the Christian’s duty to bring to his fellowmen a necessary warning. If our warnings are given, not in anger, not in irritation, not in criticism, not in condemnation, but in love, they will be effective.

iv) Light exposes everything hidden by darkness. Note Jn 3:19; 1 Cor 4:5; Eph 5:8–11. When our teens, baptized and confirmed, get pregnant and do drugs at the same rate as the general teenage population; when our marriages end in divorce at the same rate as the rest of society; when we cheat in business, or lie, steal, and cheat on our spouses at the same statistical level as those who say they are not Christians — something is wrong. Let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves whether we are the light which can be seen, the light which warns, the light which guides: these are the lights which the Christian must be.

We must remember other words of Jesus, when he said of himself: “I am the light of the world.” He instructed his disciples to go to all nations and peoples and to bring his light to them. This is what happened. From those first simple followers, the light of Christ spread through the Church to all the ends of the earth. And this light continues to spread today. This is our mission, whatever our state in life: to let the light of Christ shine through us wherever we go and whatever we do. This is done by living our faith, by putting it into action, especially by loving one another as Christ has loved us.

To follow Christ is always radical. The invitation of today’s Scripture Readings is to be illuminated ourselves. By grace we can participate in the light of God, and can become a means of spreading that light to others. The gift which God gives us especially to become enlightened through his grace is, of course, faith. By faith our intellect is strengthened and raised up. This is a breath-taking and awesome gift. Regardless of whether we are physically sighted or not, whether we are academically gifted or not, the gift of faith helps us see and understand supernatural saving realities, even on this earth.

Let us then become true followers of Jesus, just as St. Paul says in the Second Reading of today, proclaiming “Jesus Christ, and crucified” through our lives – in action & speech, works & words and through our behavior, and fully trust not on human wisdom, but on the power of God. This way we can truly become “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” for we know that “The just person is a light in darkness to the upright.” And this is the Good news of today.

Let me share with you the key features and purposes of salt and light:

SALT OF THE EARTH

• Preservative – A key feature of salt is to serve as an antiseptic, preventing the degeneration of food. Antiseptic can work only if only the salt is rubbed into the meat. As Christians, we must be in the world, facing what the world offers but not be of the world embracing its worldly values and ethics. As a moral antiseptic, Christians will benefit the secular society by preventing the corruption of society in the moral decay.

• Flavour – Without salt, the food becomes rather boring, tasteless, and insipid. Likewise, without the Good News and Christian behaviors, there is no true flavor in the world. No true joy can be accomplished without perfect flavor that Christians provide.

• White – The white color of salt symbolizes its purity. Christians are to live holy, pure, different lives. Christians should glory in our difference. An intentional choice needs to be made in our daily decisions in our life pursuing the truth and virtues of Jesus Christ. Paul proclaims in Romans 12, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.

• Fertilizer – As salt enables the growth of plants, Christians likewise need to foster the growth of that which is good in the world. Christians may engage in their calling whichever realm it may belong, and they must champion good and godly causes that promote the good of humanity.

Thirst – As you consume salt, you become more thirsty. Likewise, we as Christians ought to cause people enable an unquenchable thirst for the Gospel in the people in this world. By exemplifying the very attributes of Lord Jesus Christ, people will start noticing our different behaviors and ask, “Why are you different? Why are you filled with so much patience, peace, and joy?”

LIGHT OF THE WORLD

In Greek, the verse reads, “You and you alone are the light of the world.” Shining is not optional for light. It is a key feature of light. Likewise, we as Christians must understand the function of light.

• Expose the reality of Evil – light will make all the wickedness and rottenness visible. The Bible will help you expose the wretchedness of this world. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your words are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

• Enlightens us to God – the light of the world will open the blind. We think being blind is bound my physicality. God clearly points out we are spiritually blind. Our sinful nature naturally is inclined to relishing the darkness within us.

• Shows the Way Out – light points to the way out of the darkness. The tunnel of hopelessness, meaninglessness, death, and hell is illuminated with the light of the world. Christians must provide an unobstructed view of the cross to those in whom we come in contact with. The exit is toward Jesus Christ, our salvation.

THE SECRET RECIPE OF BEING SALT AND LIGHT

If you are looking for a magical secret recipe of gaining flavor and shining, here you go: Live a holy, and purposeful life. Be filled with the Holy Spirit day and night. Sounds mighty simple? Sounds like a platitude? What may seem like the simplest thing is sometimes the hardest to achieve. By building habits of unshakable foundations which includes practicing the beatitudes, praying fervently, reading and reflecting over the Bible, your very existence will exude flavor and you will become a beacon of light in this world.

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BE THE LIGHT IN THE DARK

BE THE SALT THAT BRINGS FLAVOUR

BE THE CALM IN THE STORM

BE AT PEACE WHILE AT WAR

BE A JOY AMIDST PAIN

BE A BLESSING AMIDST THE STRUGGLES IN LIFE.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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