Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 5:13-16
As a freshman in college, my faith hit rock bottom. The middle school and high school version of myself, who volunteered to teach faith formation and who looked forward to religion class, seemed like a distant memory. Instead, I found myself making excuses for why I could miss Mass just this once. On the weeks my conscience triumphed over my laziness, I’d sit alone in the pew, wishing the minutes away, wondering what the point of all this was. Finally, on a drive home for Easter break, I admitted to my dad that I no longer cared about our faith. My zeal had petered out, and my desire to shed Christ’s light to others was gone.
In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus shares with his followers two essential criteria for discipleship: to be salt and light. He expands upon this parable, warning of what happens if we do not live this way, noting that “if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13) and that “a city set on a mountain cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
To appreciate this gospel, we must think about salt's purpose—not only in our current age but in Jesus’ time as well. We are probably most familiar with salt’s ability to draw out and enhance other flavors in a dish. Certainly, we’ve all experienced a bite of a meal, had a handful of popcorn, or eaten some fries, and salt was notably absent, leaving the food bland and flavorless. Salt also acts to preserve. This role of salt would have been very familiar to the people in Jesus’ time who lacked refrigeration and would have needed to preserve their meats and fish using salt. Finally, salt is essential to life. Without proper sodium levels, individuals experience dizziness and vomiting; if low enough, a lack of sodium can lead to coma and even death.
Thus, when Jesus says, “you are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), He informs us of our unique role in the world while simultaneously warning us of what happens when we do not embrace it. To be the salt of the earth means that each of us is called to let our life be a witness to the gospel so as to draw out and enhance the image of God in each person we encounter, to preserve that which is true, good, and beautiful, and to create a thirst in others that leads them away from the culture of death and to Him who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). To do this, we must live in the world while simultaneously guarding our hearts against all that distracts us from the truth of the gospel so that we do not become diluted or contaminated, thus losing our "saltiness."
Jesus’ analogy that we are to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) is perhaps more obvious. Yet, in our time when light is so easily accessible, it can be underappreciated. When we experience darkness, we experience the absence of light. Evening in the first century would have been acute. Once the sun set, unless you had access to a fire of some sort, that was that. There was no light switch, no flashlight on a phone—just darkness. Therefore, Jesus’ followers would truly have comprehended just how absurd it would be to hide a light under a basket. Likewise, they would have appreciated the image of a city on a hill—how warm, welcoming, and hopeful it would have been to a traveler on a long journey.
But if we are to be the light of the world, what is the source of our light? Throughout Scripture, Jesus tells us that He is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), the light which shines in the darkness (John 1:5). Animated by Jesus’ light, we draw others to Him.
At 19 years old, I had let the world dilute me and steal my light. I had chased what society promised would make me happy, popular, and successful. In doing so, I lost the essence of myself. Of course, nothing is ever lost in the eyes of God. He answered my most honest prayers through the lives of many beautiful people. From my parents, who encouraged me to take a semester off from college, loved me unconditionally, and championed my faith journey, to my friend Seth, who helped me realize that I did not need to be perfect to receive God’s love, to our pastor who offered healing words through the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to the many parishioners who took the time to listen to and know me. Their salt and light brought me back to life, illuminated my darkness, and awakened me to my belovedness as a daughter of God. Only then was I able to once again live as the salt and light of the earth and to be that for others.
It is easy to focus on the brokenness and darkness in the world, to examine the ways in which society has gone astray. It can be challenging to look inward and ask ourselves if we are living in a way that acts as an antidote to the current times or if perhaps we have—out of hopelessness, busyness, fear, or complacency—lost our flavor, hidden our light. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul encourages us not to hide this light: “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:8-9). May we resolve to surround ourselves with people who live as children of light so that we, in turn, can give others permission to do the same.
Food for thought or journaling…
Have you ever depended upon, or perhaps needed, someone else’s salt and light to revitalize you? When have you let your light shine and, in so doing, allowed another person's light to shine?
Jesus, give me the courage to be salt and light for the world, even when it is challenging, so that through my life, others may come to know Your love. Amen.