· Vatican City ·

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: 5 February

Salt of the earth, light of the world

 Salt of the earth, light of the world  ING-005
03 February 2023

The Beatitudes provided the Gospel for last Sunday. One week later, Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, the core of his teaching, with the striking images of salt and light. The first reading too, like the Gospel, begins in the kitchen and moves to the open air and the rising light. The fast I choose, says the Lord, is it not to share your bread with the hungry? Bread can be bland, so Jesus tells his disciples, You are the salt of the earth. Bread and salt: if we add a little oil (note, all materials used in the sacraments) and a dash of garlic, we have the Italian bruschetta!

To understand the suggestiveness of salt, however, we need to go to the Old Testament where it serves a number of functions. It is in fact an ambiguous element that both sustains life and brings death. The Dead Sea has such a high salt content that it tolerates no life; salting the ground of a vanquished city renders it sterile, blocking the possibility of new life. Yet it is also a symbol of purification and covenant: You shall season all your cereal offerings with salt; you shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking…; with all your offerings you shall offer salt (Lev 2:13). And later in Israel’s history, the Lord … gave the kingship … for ever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt (2 Chron 13:5). The last and greatest of David’s sons will be the Christ (cf. Mt 22:42).

Jesus, however, is primarily thinking about flavour (if salt has lost its taste). His followers, among whom we too stand, share his responsibility of bringing zest to the blandness of a world that lacks ulterior purpose.

The second image he uses is very different from that of salt. You are the light of the world, he tells his followers. In John’s Gospel, however, he will say, I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12). We need to remember St Paul, to realise that there is no contradiction here: the Jesus who lived, taught, healed, loved, suffered, died and rose again, continues to do all these things in his body the Church, that is, in all of us who believe.

How, then, do we bring the Lord’s savour and splendour to the world? The Beatitudes already gave us an idea last Sunday. Today we have the proclamation of Isaiah in the first reading: a fundamental service of others, not so that we may be admired, but rather so that our light may reveal the glory of the Lord. Then all men and women will give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

By Fr Edmund Power osb