Salt and light

Friday, February 14, 2020 - Updated: 3:54 pm

By Father Richard S. Jones

In the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5:13-16), Jesus clearly speaks to his disciples — personally, emphatically and practically — “YOU are the salt of the earth … and YOU are the light of the world.” In just two short and concise statements, Jesus describes the identity and mission of his followers of every age.

In our modern world, we might send a tweet on Twitter: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Thus, this is the life and calling of all Christians in 103 characters.

Jesus asks us to be the salt of the earth and light for the world’s darkness. Without the light and warmth of the sun, no human life could exist on Earth. There is a Latin phrase that the Romans coined (“nil utilus sole et sale”) that means there is nothing more useful than sun and salt. There are 3 essential properties of salt:

1. Salt is an antiseptic, it kills bacteria. Rubbing salt in a wound hurts, but it prevents infection. Salt was connected with purity and was the most primitive of all offerings to the gods, and at the end of the day the Jewish sacrifices were offered with salt. Thus, a Christian is to be the salt of the earth by being an example of purity. Salt was important as a purifier, preventing diseases.

2. Salt is a preservative. Before refrigeration, the only way to preserve meat or fish was to salt or smoke it. Salt was essential. It was the most common of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from spoiling and going bad, decaying or corrupting. So a Christian is to be a cleansing antiseptic in society whose presence defeats corruption and makes it easier for others to be good.

3. Salt is an enhancer, a catalyst. Its greatest and most obvious quality is that salt brings flavor to things. Food without salt is bland. Christianity is to life what salt is to food. Christianity lends flavor to life.

Jesus invites us to be like salt; purifiers, cleansers, preservers, people who add zest to life by giving it God’s flavor. Jesus calls us to be light. In ancient Palestine, their homes consisted of one room, no windows and a door. Without a lamp or oil to fill it, it was pitch black in the house. Without light in the house, there could be no guests, no activities and no socializing.

Light was also used to guide travelers at night. Christians are to lead others away from spiritual dangers and walk toward our loving Father. Jesus asks us to be like a city elevated on high grounds, set on a hilltop as a beacon drawing others into our community of faith.

No one would deny that there is much grave darkness in the world. Most of us dread the dreary dark days of winter and long for the increase of sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons where the lack of light can zap one’s energy, make one feel moody, lose interest in normal activities, cause sleep problems, feel sluggish or agitated, tiredness or low energy, difficult concentrating, changes in appetite or weight gain, the feeling of hopelessness’, worthless or guilty, and even thoughts of death or suicide with the decrease of sunlight.

As baptized Christians, each one is called to share God’s love as we grow in holiness according to our vocation — be it marriage, single life, religious life or the priesthood. It is our way of being light. We sometimes speak about a radiant bride, but the radiance that shines from her comes from the love that has been born within her heart.

The world must have the light of good Christians and faithful examples in everyday living. As true followers of Jesus, it is our responsibility to dispell the darkness we encounter with the light of Christ that dwells within each of us. We are witnesses of light in the world, and our Christian actions speak volumes to the world around us — to our family, friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers and even our adversaries. St. Paul pleads with the faithful in the church of Ephesus: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

Christian discipleship calls us to be salt of the earth people who flavor the world with humility, purity, honesty and truthfulness. Jesus charges and commands us to be light for the world, the nation, the church, the community, the family, the workplace, the neighborhood and one another. Let our hearts be empowered to seek God’s will; our feet lead us to where God wants us to go; and our hands to do what God wants us to do. Let us be salt to our world, a shining light to our neighbor and an instrument of grace for all times.

Father Jones is a chaplain at UPMC Mercy. 

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