Vol. 6, No. 21
Daughters of Mary
January 31, 2017
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time–Matthew 5:13-16
This gospel passage by Saint Matthew is an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount and it foreshadows the mission of Jesus’ disciples to go make disciples of all nations and the Church to come. Three remarkable metaphors are presented to us here through the symbols of salt, light and a mountain. Each metaphor has a link to the Old Testament and speaks of the disciples and the Church in terms of taste, foresight and existence, not speech or instruction. As disciples of Christ, we must be true to our callings lest we render ourselves useless for the Kingdom of God. We are all salt to the earth, light to the world and are all called to fulfill Israel’s vocation–to lead all nations to God.
One of the most familiar uses of salt undoubtedly is a flavor enhancer as it brings out the individuality of vegetables, accents the flavor of meat, gives “oomph” to bland starches and even deepens the flavor of delicate desserts. Besides making food delicious, it is believed there are over 14,000 uses for salt in cooking, cleaning and preserving, most of which have stood the test of time. In Greek, salt or halas, means God preserving and seasoning a believer as they grow. In the Old Testament salt is associated with making a covenant, such as that of priesthood made with Aaron and his descendants in Numbers 18:19 as well as the covenant of kingship made with David and his descendants in 2 Chronicles 13:5. During Jesus’ time salt was extremely important and ancient communities understood it to be a necessity of life. In addition to being used to season and preserve food, salt was dispersed over sacrifices and often rubbed on newborn babies for medicinal purposes or for the desire to salt away demonic forces. During the time of Jesus’ disciples, salt was also used as a form of payment, hence came the word ‘salary’. It is clear to see the value salt has maintained over time, but it is difficult to comprehend how salt can lose its flavor and become tasteless. In Jesus’ day, salt was not as pure as we know it to be today. Rather, salt was collected from deposits left by the Dead Sea as it dried. It was exposed and vulnerable to different elements which caused it to break apart and actually lose its flavor.
When Jesus tells his disciples, “you are the salt of the earth,” he is alluding to the value and many dimensions of salt I have shared. Disciples can season what is tasteless, preserve what can deteriorate and pronounce a shared promise of loyalty. We can also be vulnerable and lose our saltiness when we allow disobedience, carelessness and indifference to contaminate and rule our lives. As Daughters of Mary, God considers each of us incredibly valuable regardless of how we feel and see ourselves. This metaphor illustrates that each of us are called to be the “spice of life” and we are to live out who we are by seasoning and preserving the world with peace (MK 9:50) and gracious speech (Col 4:5). In other words, we are called to action and to be witnesses. We are to give the world a taste and glimpse of who Christ is. Failing to do so deems us worthless and no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
The second metaphor is where we hear Jesus tell his disciples, “you are the light of the world.” Once again light is a focal point of Matthew’s gospel. As Pam Gacek shared in her reflection two weeks ago, the word light in Greek is derived from the word phos which means to shed rays, to shine. Light dispels darkness and warms all it reaches. Israel was God’s chosen servant whose mission was to be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation would reach to the ends of the earth (Isa 2:2). In Jesus’ time, the glow of a household lamp was essential for finding one’s way and was placed under a basket only when in need of being extinguished. Today this serves as a reminder that our faith can never be a private matter or something we can hide as if under a basket. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men” and “since you are light, shine”. Again we are called to witness and are to fight darkness that comes forth from sin and evil. Christ counts on us to introduce him to others. We are to let the light of Christ shine in and through us while pointing others to God who is working in us (43-Dockey & Garland). Why then do so many of us extinguish our lamp when we go to work, to school or out into our neighborhoods and communities? Why do we feel the need to blend in rather than bring warmth?
The final metaphor we have in this gospel passage is when Jesus states, “A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” A mountain symbolizes our journey towards God and is an indication that we are to go up towards Him. This gives an illusion to Jerusalem atop Mt. Zion, high above all others, drawing all nations towards the glorious light streaming from her Temple (Isa 2:2)(Gal 4:26, Heb 12:22, Rev 21:2). God intended Jerusalem to be a lamp to all nations, bringing HIS light into the world, the nations of which would come to the city on the mountain and see the light for themselves through His holy people and their devotion to him (green room). This is a visible sign of the eternal city which awaits the saints in heaven (Ignatius Catholic study bible p 15). However, this paradigm has been reversed and the Church is now the city on the mountain, not Jerusalem. The Church is a living witness and pilgrim to all nations for Christ as we bring the light of the Gospel to the nations of the world.
We Daughters of Mary are all disciples of Christ called to action. We must be salt and light to others. The true Christian attitude urged by Pope Francis is to give of oneself, to give flavor to the lives of others, to give flavor to the many things with the message of the Gospel. Pope Francis tells us that salt and light are for others, not for oneself: salt does not give flavor to itself and light does not illuminate itself. It is important to not be tempted to shine light upon ourselves, rather bring the light of faith to our neighbors and mankind. We are to season the earth by recognizing our value, fulfilling our calling and glorifying Christ through acts of mercy and merciful speech. We are to be the light of the world as we bear witness to Jesus’ message and allow others to see the heavenly reality of God’s kingdom. We are to go up that mountain with our Lord each day in prayer so that we can bring His love and mercy to our world in need. Pope Francis reminds us that prayer is a serious matter that must come from the heart and prayer is what generates light in us Christians. I ask myself, how am I answering God’s call to witness His message of the Gospel each day? How have I accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him up the mountain in prayer? I must live my life fully in God’s Kingdom today in order to be in the Kingdom tomorrow. The Kingdom is now! We can make ourselves available to God’s will through The Prayer of Mother Teresa:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul come in contact with me may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Catholic Edition RSV