In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and we are the light of the world! Jesus does not say that you should try to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world……it is a pre requisite for true Discipleship, to be Salt and Light! This is a tall order, but according to Jesus, we are both Salt and Light, or we are not!
These days we are so pre occupied about Salt in our diets that we need to just close that door on diets and get down to what the Biblical understanding of Salt in this context of Our Lord’s injunction about true Discipleship.
In the time of Jesus, Salt was used primarily to preserve good food! There was no Refrigeration, or Ice Chests in those days. Meat and fish would be salted, so that it would have a longer shelf life in their home larders. If the meat or fish was worth keeping, it was a waste of time using old salt. So, let’s hang on to this first point, salt was used to preserve and then share the life giving food with others; salt obviously gives and added kick of taste to the food but this was a bi product of the process. So, Jesus says you ARE SALT! But, not just salt alone, we are the embodiment of preserving and giving of the inner nutrients that pertain to God’s life within us. Salt in Biblical terms also means a pure heart, so bearing that in mind, we are the meat and the salt!!!! Let’s have a look at what the meat could mean in this context?……the answer by and large is found in the first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah: Here in this extract, we see the quality and meaning of meat in terms of ‘God-given attributes’ which is preserved and given to others. Let’s note, that it is the Lord God who speaking through Isaiah, tells us what our qualities must be….it is in ‘living the Word, and being the Word’ as proclaimed here in Isaiah, we then give God’s Word flesh, and life for the world.
Being an ‘OTHER CENTERED PERSON’, is the opposite of being a ‘SELF SENTED PERSON’. The other cantered person who is true and full of integrity, automatically is urged to share their bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless poor, to clothe those without and to remember that we are all Family in God…..sisters and brothers, no matter who we are, or who they are or whatever kind of human status we may be. Pope Francis lives these words of the Prophet Isaiah and actually does it, much to the annoyance of some, who see themselves above all this way ‘foot washer’ living. Our Lord, deals with these people too a bit later on. Some of these people might like to make known their mighty deeds to win people’s admiration…..but Jesus says that is false, crooked and self-destructive.
So we are good salt….not cheap stuff! We have been given the good salt by the Lord God, now we have to be ‘the salt’ and share our inner goodness with others freely and without hesitation. Yes, that is a tuff call!
The first reading underlines the inner goodness which is Biblical ‘integrity’ and is comprised of the God given attributes which are mentioned in the text. When we are tried and true, and authentically live these attributes, all we have to do is ask, and God’s ear will be close to our heart.
Now again in this reading, the Lord speaking through Isaiah and his community, speaks clearly of the reality in which we see ourselves in the world. If we lack ‘God-given’ integrity, we are tasteless salt and a darkened tomb! If we rule by the clenched fist and put enormous burdens on people’s shoulders and make life hell for them…….we are truly going downhill, and taking others with us at full speed! That temptation is seemingly always in the background, and could well be some of the residue of original sin. But it is there always, and we all know it and have to renew our commitment and response to God’s invitation to live life to the fullest. Surely, this is what real holiness means; being a wholesome person, and striving for it! But there is another element which is vital in this whole equation; a contrite heart. It also eludes to a ‘pure’ life, in this situation purity means a contrite person. The flip side in being alive with God-given integrity is to be a person who patterns their lives on the living out of Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
In your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
And from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
My sin is always before me.b
Against you, you alone have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your eyes
So that you are just in your word,
And without reproach in your judgment
Behold, I was born in guilt,
Behold, you desire true sincerity;
And secretly you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop,* that I may be pure;
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.e
1You will let me hear gladness and joy;
The bones you have crushed will rejoice.
Turn away your face from my sins;
Blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
Renew within me a steadfast spirit.f
Do not drive me from before your face,
Nor take from me your holy spirit.g
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;
Uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach the wicked your ways,
That sinners may return to you.
Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God,
And my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice.h
Lord, you will open my lips;
And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
For you do not desire sacrifice* or I would give it;
A burnt offering you would not accept.i
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.
To conclude the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that true goodness and loving outreach will be like a bright and comforting light in the darkness of the world, and that there will be no shadow about us, because we will be standing straight like the noon marker….because we are the embodiment of God’s integrity, surrounded by God’s Glory, and no darkness or evil will overshadow it.
Light is absolutely fundamental for human existence, and for every living thing in our world. When we have a ‘black out’ these days, it is shock horror for us all. Where are the candles we might ask when our world becomes dark through some natural or human disaster? More than at any other time in human history we depend on light and energy to live! Being in the dark can be a horrible experience, especially if we have no means of light. When a light appears, it gives us hope, it gives us energy and it gives us joy! We have all heard marvellous stories of people locked into darkness through Mine Cave ins etc. Jesus uses are great analogy when he says that YOU ARE the light of the world! Not maybe, but you are! The source and radiation of light can make life complete, and it enables us to see our world and see ourselves reflected in the light, or in need of ‘spiritual maintenance’ to get the light up to glowing brightness. Again, it goes back to the first Reading from Isaiah, if we embody God given integrity, and work with it, refurbish it and spontaneously act according to it, we are the light that Jesus speaks about.
Fr Kevin Walsh