Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (9th February 2020)

Matthew 5:13-16. “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world”

When the busy world of the Sea of Galilee unveiled itself to Jesus, what did he see?

It was a hive of activity with the disciples gathered, some of them fishermen, a scattering of people, small towns and villages dotting the shore line, a few boats docked at the pier, some men out fishing, women doing their household chores, children playing.  He saw a few flickering lights on the mountains   that swept down to the shore and the mountain tops in the distance.

This setting suggested to Jesus two little parables born from the ordinary day to day life of people who lived along the shore.

Those who listened to Jesus would well know the striking importance of both salt and light in their daily lives.   Salt is necessary for life. People bought  it in the market square and used it in their homes and trade.  Jesus makes a clear  distinction between good salt that gives flavour and preserves and that which loses its saltiness and its taste. We too know how necessary salt is. This salt has to be pure and clean, what  is spilled  and scattered on the ground is useless.

Fishing was a significant industry in the towns and villages built along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Fish was packed and preserved by salt.  The catch was sold in the markets of the far away cities and ports.  This was only made possible by salt.  In the days before refrigeration, salt was the only means of preserving the produce from decay, enabling the people to earn an income for their families and work for the wider community.

As experienced in the Holy Land, the break between night and day was pretty immediate.  Very quickly, at dawn, the sun flooded the land with light and with equal abruptness vanished into the darkness of nightfall.  Darkness claimed the fields and streets.  In the home, a candle or a tiny oil lamp made all the difference, so Jesus reminds us of the importanceof these glimmers of light.

In today’s world many of us have become so used to the availability of light and salt.  How quickly we take things for granted and how instantly we become frustrated when there is a power outage.  How quickly we feel helpless, unable to do anything.

Did you ever find yourself without light?  Like being a bit frightened on the road side when the car broke down or lost when  you went astray on a mountain path and dusk was falling or suddenly when your home or street was in darkness.

Using the images of salt and light from daily life, Jesus presents a clear and grounded message. The health and life of  human society and our planet is not determined by law or imposition, rather it comes from the heart and mind of every individual, radiated  in the love which flows within and between us, in a gentle word, a smile,  a listening ear.

A popular phrase is often used to describe  a person, ‘she/he is the salt of the earth’.

In other words, you might say she/he is a person of integrity, compassionate, kind, sincere, honest, truthful. Someone  who is always there for others, someone who is truly living the words of Jesus ‘salt of the earth’.    Others might say she/ he was a light for me in times of darkness, grief, loneliness.   Reflect on those times in your life when you felt supported by that person who was  salt or light for you.

Today in this gospel text, Jesus is speaking these words to you and me.  He says to you by name…. you are the salt of the earth,  you are the light of the world”.

Pause a moment and hear yourself say “ I am the salt of earth, I am the light of the world”.   How do you and I become Jesus’ words and  actions today for ourselves, for each other, for our world?      Be conscious throughout this day, this week of how you/we could be salt or light for another person or people and when we do,  we are sharing in God’s love for our world.

We pray, Father in heaven, You have called us to be hearers and bearers of your Word.  To embody your love, your passion and your dream for the world. Through your Word, open our eyes, our ears, our hearts and minds, to see and to become your living and life-giving presence for our brothers and sisters.

Martina Phelan OP 

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