For heaven sake, don’t tell me you are sweet!
Fifth Sunday in ordinary time-Matthew 5:13-16
The intended hearers of Matthew’s first discourse are principally the disciples. So this passage is for you and me; plain and simple. The question being raised by Jesus is this; if we lose our Christian distinctiveness, how can we become Christian again? Jesus does this by giving us two assertions (verses 13 a, 14 a), two examples (13b and 14 b) and one commandment (verse 16). So this is not some suggestion that the Lord is making but a clear commandment (unlike the beatitudes).
Jesus’ instructions in these verses are statements of facts. He does not say you should be the light of the world, he says,” you are”! In doing so He gives us identity before behaviour. Our identity is that we are salt and light in the world. Knowing who we are, we have clarity of how we should behave.
The metaphors of Jesus have unfortunately to be explained to the modern world. What was once a common sense example is today obscured. Jesus did not need to give a commentary on the importance of salt or light, the metaphor was clear. Both these metaphors were both highly valued and important to daily living in the ancient world.
To cite an example, the very word ‘salary’ comes from the word salt. Salt was a highly valued commodity and Roman soldiers were paid their salary in salt. Salt was used for seasoning and used as a preservative in a world that had never imagined a refrigerator.
Similarly, light too, like salt, served to illuminate a home. Often poorer homes would have but a single clay lamp, and that’s why it made sense to keep it on a pedestal, so that its light would be diffused over the room. Why then would any one allow salt to be saltless and light to be hidden under a bushel? The very thought would be bizarre to the listeners of Jesus. But this is exactly the point that Jesus is making to His disciples and to us.
Look at this text in its context. The larger context is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just set clearly the ‘description’ of Christian living in the beatitudes. Now He gives us a ‘prescription’ in defining our identity. What makes us salty, what makes us the light is that we live out the beatitudes. It is in living these prescriptions that a Christian is the salt and light of the world.
Measure your own saltiness and light by reading once again the prescription of Christian living. Am I poor in spirit? Do I mourn with others? Am I meek and merciful and humble of heart? If the answer to the beatitudes is yes, then you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Interestingly Christians strive to be ‘sweet’ to one another; it’s time we were salty.
Fr Warner D’Souza