Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Salt of the earth and light of the world are the phrases that focus on the central message of this Sunday. In the gospel this Sunday Jesus uses two metaphors in his teaching: the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We have heard that Gospel before, and it is very easy to miss the deeper meaning of the two metaphors. Let us first look at the example of the salt. Why does Jesus call his disciples salt of the earth? 1) The first obvious reason is that Jesus wants to describe the power of influence his disciples have in the situations they find themselves. 2) the second reason is that historically, salt has always been valuable in human society, much more than it is today. 3) It may be interesting to note that the English word "salary" comes from Latin salarium, "salary", "stipend", originally a Roman soldier's pay which was in salt. The English saying, "worth one's salt" means that someone is worth his or her wages. 4) The hearers of Jesus understood the expression salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity. Thus the followers of Jesus were to have an extremely important role in the world, much comparable to the function of salt. Because of the preservative nature of salt, an covenant sealed with salt in Jewish society was deemed to last forever. In saying to his disciples “you are the salt of the earth,” Jesus could have used the metaphor to underline a several disciple qualities. One of the best meaning for the metaphor of salt is its preservative quality. So just as salt is used to preserve food from decay and keep it fresh, so too Christians by their life of witness, can make a difference by preserving their situations from moral decay. That preservative quality of salt implies our being mixed with the affairs of this world, in order to change its flavor. We must maintain our saltiness in order to sustain our influence.

The expression light of the world, perhaps comes from Isaiah, who described Israel as “light of the nations” (Is 42:6). In calling his disciples “the light of the world” Jesus refers to their radical way of life that must be distinctive and thus become witnesses for the world to see, like a city set on a mountain. Christians become the light of the world through their visible good deeds. But just as light does not draw attention to itself, but to what is in the room, so too a disciple, to be truly light of the world draws attention to the source of the light, Jesus Christ.  The message for this Sunday may be summed up in three points. 1) Just as salt fulfils its function of saltiness by being mixed with food, we too mix with the affairs of daily life and so give the flavor and taste of Christ to such situations. 2) We become the light of the world by our exemplary life of witness that makes others see the possibility of living as Christ teaches. 3) Both salt and light are most effective, when they draw attention, not to themselves, but to something beyond themselves. Similarly, disciples are more effective and faithful when they point to the source of saltiness and light, Jesus Christ.
©2020 John S. Mbinda

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