Fifth Sunday of the Year: Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Jesus spoke these words to his disciples at the beginning of his ministry. They had much to learn and a long road to travel, but, from the very outset, with these words, Jesus reassured his followers that already God dwelt within them.
Few of us would describe ourselves as salt of the earth or light for the world. Perhaps we dismiss this description too easily. When Jesus described his disciples as salt and light he wasn’t describing a far-distant goal eventually to be achieved. He was describing what those first disciples, and each one of us, has already become through our baptism and communion with the Lord. It is not ourselves but Christ dwelling within us that makes us the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
St Paul expressed this in his words to the Corinthians. Despite a privileged and educated background, he deliberately downplayed any personal accomplishment he might have brought to his ministry. “When I came to you brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed.” This was not false modesty on Paul’s part. He spoke from the conviction that Christ was with him, and that his indwelling Spirit had the power to change lives.
It was for this reason that the only knowledge he claimed was the crucified Christ; that he trusted in Christ rather than any personal achievement.
The words of St Paul are an encouragement to every struggling Christian. They convince us that we, as with Paul from the moment of his conversion, have already become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus went on to warn his disciples that salt must never be allowed to lose its flavour, that a lamp must not be hidden under a tub. The imagery, while simple, highlights a temptation that we face every day. Few of us would deliberately reject God, but it is only too easy to neglect the taste of his presence, to allow the light of his love to grow dim.
In this way we become the salt that has lost its savour, the light hidden under a tub.
Our Lord’s description of disciples as the light of the world reached back to the words of the prophet Isaiah. Here, the prophet was describing the lives that would witness to God’s presence among his people. They were to share their bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless poor and clothe the naked. “Then will your light shine like the dawn, and your wound be quickly healed over.”
It is through the simplest acts that reach out to God and neighbour that the light of Christ is revealed. While we must never forget the growing number literally starving in our world, we should not neglect those closest to us. We share our bread with the hungry when we give ourselves to those who long for a word of understanding, a gesture of acceptance. When we reach out to the hidden vulnerability of those around us with compassion, we are indeed clothing the naked.
The prophet had been speaking to a people who were searching to find their way back to God. It was in such simple acts that their light would rise in the darkness, their shadows become like noon. It is in reaching out that we begin to understand Christ’s words: “You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.”