YOU ARE LIGHT AND SALT OF THE EARTH!
I come to think of the riotous and uproarious shouts of disappointment that accompany lights out wherever people are gathered in numbers. This is also contrasted with the victorious, breathtaking and hilarious shouts of joy and life whenever the light comes back. Experiment this with people gathered to watch football match, pupils in a class hall especially when there is no hope or immediate alternative to power like the generator set, inverter or solar power supply. How do you feel in a dark room? Why do evil men prefer to operate in the dark? Why are they afraid of light? This is a partial picture of what the light stands for and what its absence can mean to humanity. Little wonder therefore at creation God began the work of creation by first creating light which at that very instance dispelled the darkness that engulfed the earth (Gen.1.2-3). Thus making all creatures children of light.
Immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sat his disciple to bring to their awareness that they are the light and salt of the world. Light is an unavoidable agent of biological and spiritual growth for both plants and animals. Thus light dispels darkness and is meant to be seen. It therefore implies that in the true sense, there cannot be a secret Christian discipleship as such – for either the secrecy will betray the discipleship or the discipleship will destroy the secrecy. Thus a disciple of Jesus must be perfectly visible in the world. In the same vein, light is meant to be a guide by shedding its rays, warming what is cold, leading and showing the way. It also sends a warning, when there is a danger lying ahead. It implies that a follower of Jesus is to be an example to others and to positively influence them; at the same time lovingly giving them warnings of the dangers of the evil in the world which is also part of the prophetic ministry of Christ which the followers of Christ received at baptism.
In the same vein, salt is a basic and essential item in our diet. It has a unique identity. Does Christ intend to refer His disciples as Ebonyians by calling them “salt of the nation”? Nevertheless, the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to food. Food without salt is sadly insipid and even a sickening thing. Salt is so important that one can’t even imagine living without it. In time past, salt was connected with purity, for it came from purest of all things that is a chemical reaction of the sun and the sea gives us salt. I am not a chemist by profession but even the village women know this chemical formular so well. This end product of the purest elements reaction; salt was most primitive of all offerings to gods; even the Jews always added salt to all their offerings to God. Also, in ancient times, salt was the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad. So, salt preserves things from getting corrupted.
So, when Jesus says to his followers – “You are the salt of the earth”, it simply means that a follower of Jesus must lend flavor to life, bringing joy & gladness, happiness & peace, justice & love, care & concern, hope & consolation, among whom he lives. He also has to be upon this earth, an example of absolute purity in speech, in conduct and even in thought, living a life of honesty, diligence & conscientiousness. He further has to preserve the good and prevent the evil in the society, and save it from deteriorating; by his very presence he has to defeat corruption of all kinds. Surely, it is not an easy and a mean compliment. Also, when he used this image of salt, Jesus would have meant how a disciple of his must be valuable and precious like the salt. If salt is to add any savor to the world, it must retain its own properties. Just as insipid salt is of no use in flavoring or preserving food, so too the disciples are of no use if they fail to live as Christ teaches. The corruption of the best is the worst. Always bear in mind this popular saying that ‘those called to be the greatest constitute the worst tragedy if they fail’. This is the lot which Christ desires to shed away from us.
Christ teaches us today that salt has hidden power. There is always a seemingly disproportion between its appearance and its effect. On one level, to the sense of sight, salt hardly even registers. It dissolves almost instantly in routine kitchen use. Yet on another level, to the sense of taste, salt makes all the difference. Salt belongs to that family of images with which Jesus reminds us that the true measure of spiritual progress is often hidden from our eyes. The Kingdom of God is like the salt, not the meal; like the leaven, not the loaf; like the mustard seed, not the tree in which the birds make their nests. Salt is like Israel: on one level the least significant of the nations of the ancient world, but, on another level, a people whose light, the first reading tells us, breaks forth like the dawn. Furthermore, because salt adds flavor, it also has the character of causing hunger and thirst. The Church used to draw attention to this feature of salt in the rite of baptism used before Vatican II. There, the priest would pinch salt in the mouth of the baby to be baptized. He would then pray, ‘After this first taste of salt, let his [or her] hunger for heavenly nourishment not be prolonged but soon be satisfied …’ This “heavenly nourishment” was an allusion, of course, to the Eucharist, to the true food and true drink that Christ wants to give us all.
Salt and light are powerful images of discipleship. What does it mean to be salt and light? The First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah speaks in terms of justice and compassionate care for the weak, needy and vulnerable. For, through them the very goodness of God is revealed. And in that way, the disciple’s light will shine like the dawn. Hence the prophet Isaiah teaches is today that if we feed the hungry and help the afflicted that we ourselves will be like a light to these people who are in darkness because of their gloom and depression, and by giving them our help, the gloom will be as bright as noon day – full sun, full light. We need to do good works – works of justice. And we need to let people see these, not for our glorification but because justice is what it means to be Christian. It is what Christians do. It is the way we show love to each other and “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love”. This is one of the main themes of both Hebrew and Christian scripture, it is what Jesus was all about, and offer this as Good news for you today to take with you and practice so that you can be lights for the world!
At the start of his ministry, St. Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, namely, that he is ‘the great light’ that will disperse the shadow of death, of sin, that has enveloped the world. Now Jesus is sharing this task to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” – these are the two greatest compliments Jesus gives to them.
My prayer for you all this week is that your light may never fail and your flavor may never sour rather you may always be the beloved of God. Amen!