“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Few of us would choose to describe ourselves in such glowing terms, and yet it was in precisely these words that Jesus described us as his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount.
As sinful people, we cannot deny that the light and savour of faith wax and wane with life’s changing circumstances. Fortunately these words of Jesus did not apply to what we can achieve of ourselves. He was describing what he brings about within us as we respond to his call.
Sinners we may be, but when we respond to him, his presence enables the most ordinary life to become salt to the earth and his light to the world. What the Lord calls us to is not impossible, because with the call comes his presence at work within us.
In the strength of his presence, and not from ourselves alone, we are enabled to respond with generosity to his call. “No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.”
Jesus called his disciples to the good works that would become his light in a troubled world. There is a tendency to think of good works as the additional acts of charity and devotion that we can bring to our lives. For this reason we tend to concentrate on additional good works during Lent.
Surely the vision that Christ set before his disciples in describing them as the salt of the earth and the light of the world called for something more profound than this. He was surely calling us to believe that his grace can so transform our hearts and minds that everything we do, consciously or unconsciously, becomes his light to the world. We are called to become like him in the ways in which we think and understand, the attitudes that govern our hearts and the ways in which we act.
As St Paul puts it, if we are already the children of the light, let us act as children of the light. The way in which our world reacts to widespread poverty, hunger and need vividly demonstrates the differing mindsets at govern a sinful world. A selfish life will either ignore poverty, or possibly judge its victims as the authors of their own plight. Sadly, the crass division of the world into strivers and scroungers continues to desensitise much popular debate.
If we see and understand the world as Christ understood it, we will act with his compassion. We will act with the compassion to which the Prophet Isaiah called God’s people: “Share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor, clothe the naked and turn not from your own kin. Then will your light shine like the dawn, and your wound be quickly healed over.”
We rarely encounter the extremes of poverty and homelessness, but we are surrounded all the time by those who long to be sheltered in our understanding, and to be clothed and enriched by our compassion.
In prayer let us contemplate that we are, ourselves, the work of God’s compassion and mercy. As this realisation grows in our hearts, our whole lives shall become a good work that gives praise to the Father.