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Salt and light

· ​Meditation ·

Matthew 5:13-16

“Salt of the earth” and “light of the world”: these are expressions that when isolated from their context sound arrogant and presumptuous. Who can claim to be a light for others or to give savour to the earth? Who can presume to shine out with his own light? These seem to be the attitudes of those who set themselves up as instructors, those who claim to have something to teach others and impose in a bullying manner their ways of seeing and thinking, as if they were the absolute truth to which everyone must submit. “You have one teacher, and you are all brethren”, Jesus admonishes (Mt23:8). “Salt of the earth” and “light of the world”: only when read in their context, following the Beatitudes and illuminated by the whole of the Scriptures do these expressions convey their paradoxical character and indicate to us what the Christian’s vocation is.

Salt piles at Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)

“You are the salt of the earth”: salt in itself is no use to the earth, on the contrary it renders it barren, but here Jesus means: “You are the salt of human life on earth”. In the Old Testament salt is a symbol of communion, of fidelity, so that in Hebrew it became possible to coin the expression “a covenant of salt” (Num18:19; 2 Chron 13:5), in order to define fidelity to the Covenant which God made with his people. Being the salt of the earth means living a presence of communion and peace with the other human beings on this earth. Matthew predicts the failure of this vocation; salt can lose its savour.The Greek verb used here (moráinein), means “to become foolish”. It is the foolishness of the man who “built his house upon the sand” (Mt 7:26) and not upon the rock which is Christ himself; it is the foolishness of those five young women who took their lamps with them but no oil (Mt 25:2-3). Salt that has lost its savour is “foolish”, “no longer good for anything” except to be “thrown out”, a recurrent expression in the Gospel according to Matthew to designate the Last Judgement.

a detail of the installation “Moon Harvest” by Bruce Munro

“You are the light of the world”: light does not belong to us; we can only accept and reflect it.Only Jesus can say: I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). No one else can say this of himself. No triumphalism, no arrogance! It will be life, it will be others, it will be the Lord who will judge whether we are salt and light.It is up to us to keep our gaze fixed on the Lord at every moment, in every situation, without letting ourselves be distracted by false lights that seek to seduce us.“Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), the Apostle Paul reminds us.We must not deny our darkness nor hide from ourselves and from the Lord that, despite our wish to follow him and love him, there are many forms of resistance within us, many doubts, many hesitations, and that we often become accomplices of our darkness. However, day after day we must welcome the light that comes from the Lord, we must reflect this light in our faces, in our whole entire bodies, in our daily lives; we must believe in light in order to become “sons of light” (Jn 12:36), we must love in order to remain in the light (“He who loves his brother abides in the light”, 1 Jn 2:10). Then we shall understand those works which Matthew calls “good” (Mt 5:16). What are “good works”? They are those attitudes illustrated in the Beatitudes: the poverty of those who recognize they are beggars before God, weeping over the darkness of themselves and of others, meekness, mercy, purity of heart, the constant search for peace within oneself and with others, finding our joy and bliss in the Lord alone, even if our following of him should arouse rejection, scorn and false accusations. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Mt 5:11).

The Apostle Peter invites us to have “good conduct” among men and women, so that “they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God”. (1Pet 2:12). This good life gives rise to amazement and questioning; to anyone who calls them to account for the hope that is in them Christians will make a defence (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

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