Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A
“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world.” Unless he’d used air and water, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus could have found two things more ordinary, more commonplace, than salt and light to describe the role and mission of his disciples. Because these things are so very ordinary, the deep significance of what Jesus is saying can slip right past us. But considering four everyday experiences we all regularly have with salt and with light can begin to make it clear that the life to which Jesus calls us is anything but commonplace, anything but ordinary.
Have you ever forgotten to add the salt to a recipe—or eaten food by someone who did? It tastes flat, bland. Ever tried to walk through a dark, unfamiliar room? It can be a rather dangerous thing to do! In both cases, the essential role of salt and light is apparent from their absence. A little bit of salt doesn’t only make most things taste better; it makes them so that they have taste at all, enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients. And even just a few rays of light make it possible to safely find our way around. Just so, we Christians have an essential role to play in the world. Without Christians and the role we’re called to play, this world would lose its zest. Without the light of Christ we’re called to reflect, the human race would stumble even more than it does now and completely lose its way. Jesus asks us to consider the uselessness of salt that’s lost its taste…but that can only happen if it’s not really salt anymore. Similarly, we can’t even imagine a light that does not shine. Nor is it possible to be a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, a Catholic in name only. We have been given something vital to do on this earth, an indispensible role in the world.
Have you ever added way too much salt to something you’re cooking—or eaten food by someone else who did? All you can taste it the salt! Have you ever had another driver following right on your tail, and they just won’t turn off their high beams? The point of having headlights is too make it easier to see the road…but with all that glare in your rearview mirror, you can’t see the road or anything else. When used as they should be, salt elevates the flavor of other ingredients and light reveals the things on which it shines. Too much salt, too much light, and they manage to only draw attention to themselves. So, too, have you and I been sent by Jesus to draw the worlds’ attention to him, and not to us. The role we’ve been given is an essential one, but not exalted. Humility is key in the life to which we’ve been called.
Imagine you’re making a pot of soup that you’ll share with somebody else, and as you add the salt, you do so on only one side of the pot, thinking, “I like my soup saltier than she does, so I’ll eat from this side of the pot and she can eat from the other.” That’d be ridiculous, of course, since the salt will dissolve throughout the soup. Did you ever try to sneak in after curfew when you were younger, only to get caught because the little teeny tiny light you turned on somehow managed to shine right into your parents’ bedroom? Light has that tendency, too: to reach into every dark nook and cranny. In the same way, our faith in Jesus must reach into every area of our life. Being a Catholic can’t be something we restrict to a single hour on Sunday, or only to certain “religious” aspects of life; it needs to get into everything, mixing into all we think, do, or say. And we need to shine the light of our faith into the lives of all the other people we meet, whether at work or school, in the store or on the street—family, friend, or stranger. There should be no place where we don’t make Jesus’ presence known. Christianity is meant to be a comprehensive way of life—one that ought to be infectious.
Have you ever seen a recipe that calls for a single grain of salt? Of course not. To be effective, quite a few are required. Or imagine that this light bulb is the only one in all of Malone. It would certainly not be sufficient to light the community once the sun goes down. But as it is, find a vantage point where you can look on the village in the dark of night, and it’s all the many different lights shining together that make it a rather lovely sight to behold. As Jesus says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” The life to which Jesus calls us is not to be lived in isolation. Our mission is fulfilled best when we all work together.
“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world.”
The next time you reach for the salt (if your doctor still lets you do that), or flick the switch to turn on the light, don’t allow it be just an ordinary, commonplace gesture. Let it serve as a reminder of the extraordinary calling we’ve received, the uncommon mission we’ve been given by Jesus. He has given us an essential role to play in his plan, but one that’s best fulfilled in humility. Jesus wants us to make his presence known to everybody everywhere, and we do that most effectively when we come together to work as one. So be salt. Be light.