Salt and Light of the Earth

Sunday 9 February 2020

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) 

It's early days in the new liturgical year, and we are only a short way into our journey through the story of Jesus’ public mission. This is a pattern you would be familiar with: during Ordinary Time (Green Time), we make our way, bit by bit, through one of the gospels. This year we’re making the journey with Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve already covered the story of Jesus’ conception, birth and infancy; and over the last couple of weeks we’ve heard about the beginning of his public life, his baptism, and the calling of the first disciples.

Today, we commence making our way through what’s commonly called the Sermon on the Mount, where Matthew recounts the first major teaching of Jesus. Up until now, Jesus has mainly been doing things; now he wishes to teach his followers to understand his mission and their calling. And so, we pick up the story with the words of Jesus that follow his teaching of the Beatitudes: you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.

It is worthwhile noticing that Jesus did not begin teaching his disciples by setting out a series of doctrines and commandments to be believed and followed. Rather, he commenced by describing something of what a disciple is meant to look like. Disciples in God’s kingdom, the kingdom Jesus has come to proclaim, are meant to be salty in the way they are present in the world; and they are meant to be a source of illumination for the world.

Don’t think of this ‘world’ in which a disciple is to bring a disposition of salt and light as the entirety of all the lands on earth. You can’t be salt and light everywhere and all at once. The ‘world’ that matters here is our most immediate environment, the world of our local communities in which we live: our family, our neighbourhood, our friendship circles, our places of work and leisure. These are the locations where our ‘kingdom’ presence can make a difference, where our Christian discipleship can be tasted and seen. The way of Jesus – and the presence of God’s kingdom – is always to be found in the local and personal; it is meant to be close by.

If the world that Jesus taught about is the world of our home and neighbourhood, then what is the nature of this salt and light we are meant to bring to it? Well, Jesus talked of letting our light shine for the sake of others by practicing good works that give praise to God. And what might these good works look like? We need only recall what Jesus taught immediately beforehand: blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the gentle; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the virtuous; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are the persecuted for what is right; blessed are those belittled for living according to the way of Jesus.

Here is the salt and light Jesus calls us to bring to the world – habits of living that are powerfully counter-cultural in so many ways. These are not powers of our own making (to pick up St Paul’s phrase from the second reading); these are not the models of living presented to us on our social feeds either. Rather, the Beatitudes are ways of living that demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit at work in ways that are attractive to live by. Perhaps we might think the Beatitudes an unappealing way of living, but just consider if Jesus had offered us their opposites as salt and light: blessed are the privileged; the selfish; the un-caring; the vice-ridden; the cruel; the corrupt; the warmongers; the persecutors; the bullies. This is not salt and light.

Towards the end of his earthly life, Jesus taught his disciples that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus’ teaching to us today is to walk in his way, tell of his truth, and live his path to life. This is salt and light.

 Artwork by John August Swanson



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