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February 9, 2020

A reflection for the 5th Sunday, Ordinary Time, year A. The readings are Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and Matthew 5:13-16.

Two weeks ago we were talking about how Jesus is the Light that scatters all darkness. I asked you to pray with Psalm 27 for someone who’s in darkness. How’s that going (you thought I’d forget, eh?) Keep praying: “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation.”

Last week, in our parish, we were reminded that by virtue of our Baptism, we all receive the Light of Christ and we are to keep it burning brightly.

Today we are told something else: Not that Jesus is the Light of the world but that we; you are the Light of the world. And we are told something that may sound a bit strange when you hear it for the first time: You are salt.

I am not sure about you, but I like being light. I understand being light. When I die, you can put on my tombstone: “He brought light to all those around him”. But who would want their tombstone to say: “he was salty”? We all want to be light, but who wants to be salt? It’s easy to explain light, but salt?

Today I’d like to make the case for salt.

There are four qualities of salt that I want to talk about. The first one is very similar to light. That is that salt is simple. Light is simple too. You only need a little bit of light to scatter the darkness. If it’s completely dark, you only need to light a match or a candle, and it’s not dark anymore. Salt is the same, it’s simple. You only need a little bit to make a difference. With light you can add a lot of light and that’s also good, but with salt, you can’t add a lot. For salt to be effective, you only need a little. If you’re baking bread, you only need to add a pinch. If you don’t add any salt, the bread won’t work; if you add too much salt, the bread also won’t work. You just have to add a little bit. So salt is simple.

The next three qualities are very similar to each other, but completely different than light. It’s impossible to light a match or a candle or lamp and for it to not be noticed. That’s the whole point of light. That’s why Jesus says that you don’t light a lamp to put it under a basket; you light it to put it on the lamp stand or on the table; so that everyone can see it.

Salt is different.

For salt to be effective, it has to be absorbed. Once it’s absorbed, you may not even notice it. If you add salt to a glass of water, it sinks to the bottom. You could taste the water and not taste the salt until you get to the bottom. But if you stir the salt, it gets absorbed and then it makes a difference. It’s the same with bread; you add the salt and it gets absorbed so that you don’t even taste it. Salt is absorbed.

Which is similar to the next quality. In order for salt to be effective, sometimes it also has to lose itself. It has to stop being salt. Sometimes you add salt to something and it disappears. It gets lost – it stops being salt and you can’t take it out. If you add salt to a glass of water, you could evaporate the water and get the salt back; but if you add salt to bread, once it’s in there, you can’t take it out. It’s lost.

This is also very similar to the next quality. For salt to be effective it gets absorbed, sometimes it gets lost and it is transformed. The salt you add to the water, once it’s absorbed by the water, it creates something new: the water is transformed into something different. It’s the same with anything else you add salt to; it changes the chemical composition of what you add it to. (I was recently told that when you make capicola it’s the salt that transforms something that is inedible into something edible.)

When salt is really effective, it is transformative.

So salt is simple, he has to be absorbed, it loses itself and is transformative. I don’t have to explain too much how this can be applied to our daily Christian lives.

Being light is nicely described in the first reading from Isaiah. Those are all ways in which we can be a light for all to see: share your bread, clothe the naked; shelter the oppressed. What St. Paul describes in the second reading is more like being salt. He is quiet, humble. He doesn’t show off his wisdom. He doesn’t go in with a blinding light; he goes with simplicity and let’s himself be absorbed. He loses himself in the message; it’s not about him – and that’s why it’s transformative.

So it’s easy to see how we can be salt or light in the world. Sometimes we are called to be light and let the world see; sometimes we are called to be salt, and no one sees.

This Sunday is Marriage Sunday in the Archdiocese of Toronto and so I am going to use marriage as an example. Marriage is always a great way to exemplify how we are to live our Christian lives. Sometimes in marriage we are called to be light, to do things that are going to be noticed: we go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day and buy our loved one flowers; we use words of affirmation, give gifts to your spouse; help them and serve them; touch them and be affectionate; go out of your way to spend time together. Sometimes we are also called to be defenders and protectors of marriage in the public square – since marriage is quite often under attack. We are called to help our young people learn about and understand marriage; we are called to support young married couples. That’s being light.

But if you really want to make a difference in your marriage, it’s best to be salt. Do little, simple things that no one will ever see. Let yourself be absorbed into the marriage and lose yourself in the other person and you will see the transformation. Not because your spouse will notice how amazing you are, but because you will have a different perspective, a different focus and attention to your spouse and that will transform you. And your marriage will be transformed.

When Jesus tells his disciples—and us through them today—that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, He is talking about holiness. He is talking about sainthood. The Church teaches that we have a universal call to holiness. That means that everyone is called to be holy; to be a saint. It’s funny that we say that it’s a call, because Jesus makes it very clear today that it’s not a call; it’s not a choice. He doesn’t say that you can be salt and light if you want to, or if you feel like it; if you wake up on the right side of the bed; if you were born in this or that country; if you went to that university or if you speak English or if the planets are aligned a certain way. You ARE salt of the earth; you ARE light of the world. This is who we are. It’s not a choice.

The only choice is to say yes to that which we already are.

It’s like Clark Kent who grows up in Smallville knowing that he is different, he has special abilities, he knows he’s from a different world – but he spends his whole life growing up trying to pretend he is not who he is; trying not to be superman. Until he can’t do it anymore and he accepts who he is – his identity, that is marked by a large S on his chest.

We also have an S inscribed in our hearts – not for superman – but for saint; for salt. We can ignore who we are, or we can say yes and start living like saints; like salt – like light.


You want to live holy and saintly lives? Let your light shine and keep it burning brightly. And remember, sometimes the best way to be light, is to be SALT: Simple, Absorbed, Losing yourself and Transformative.

From → English, Reflections

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