Fifth Sunday in ordinary time
In today’s Gospel we have two short metaphors continuing from last Sunday’s Beatitudes. In this text, through these two metaphors, we are urged to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt and light are two ancient symbols which were frequently used by the Old Testament prophets. In Palestine in the time of Jesus salt was an easily available commodity . There was a cliff of rock salt 216 meters high and 10 kilometres long stretching along the Dead Sea, which was called the called the Sea of Salt. Refined salt was very much valued in the community. It was used to preserve food and to give it taste. In a country where firewood was scarce, salt was also used to extract certain chemical elements from wood so that it could catch fire more easily. Indeed refined salt had so many qualities. It is used in the Bible as a symbol of Wisdom. In Numbers 18:19: “a covenant of salt ” is referred to as sealing the bond of friendship. Jesus uses this image, suggesting that his disciples become like properly refined salt – by extracting the evils of arrogance, attachments, unforgiveness, negativity and selfishness from our behaviour in order to allow the Holy Spirit to catch fire within us. Then through our good deeds we will be valuable and useful to others. Without this “refinement” we will remain like the coarse salt in the Dead Sea, tasteless and useless to our neighbours.
The second image is the more familiar one of light. “You are the light of the world”. It is an image Jesus often uses in his teaching and one we can relate to more easily. We know we can be a light to others I.e. choose to shine on them even in an imperfect way. Leonard Cohen captured this truth very beautifully in his well-known poem.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Ackn0wledging our cracks, not pretending to be perfect will let the light in, and let it shine through us. So we need the cracks.
I remember using an overhead projector in a very poor parish overseas to bring this point across to parishioners. I used a very dishevelled looking weed, sprinkled with a few drops of water to revive it in the hot sun. I sprinkled it with a few drops of water to revive it. When I turned on the switch, that weed was utterly transformed . It appeared as a perfect flower with dew drops dripping off it. Seeing the dying weed so transformed in the light prompted a young man who was present to tell me his story later.
Andries, a recovered alcoholic who was in that Parish, spoke of how he had been taught in AA that we humans are 90% good and only 10% not so good. Hearing this, he was determined to give up his old ways and to set out on the path to recovery. Because of his wish to recover for the sake of his two young daughters, he persevered in his resolve, and with God’s help and the help of others, began the long journey to transformation and came into the light. St Paul tells us, “ Everything exposed to the light becomes visible, because everything that becomes visible is Light.” (Eph.5:13).
Jesus constantly encourages us not to hide our light under a tub but to enable it to shine and touch the lives of others in dire need of our attention, understanding and compassion. Andries is now an AA dedicated worker, trying to bring others back to the path he himself trod. Like Andries we are called to radiate the light to others through our good deeds, by showing and helping them to come into the Light. We do this only with the help of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do it alone.
Light speaks of God because God is love. ( 1 John 4:8). Acting on a true desire as Andries did, always gives back love and energy. We, the church must be like the moon, receiving and reflecting the Light of Christ, says Pope Francis. So, let your light shine today and always.
With this attitude, the “Be-attitudes” come alive for us and for others.
Just a few questions you can reflect and ponder on throughout the week:
- How can I be salt to my neighbour who continuously annoys me by the way she/he reacts to those with disability?
- As Andries learned from AA the need to work on the 10% of our behaviour that affects others, how can I change any of my attitudes which are annoying to those with whom I live and work?
Remember these habits are often ingrained in us and may take a life-time of the practice of awareness to overcome.
Sr. Dympna Travers OP