Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 5, 2017)

As Jesus talks with his disciples in today’s Gospel, he uses two metaphors about “being” for others. He says, first, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then he asks a rhetorical question that is of questionable help. “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? ” I am told that salt cannot lose its flavor; its taste is part of what it is.

We know too much salt can be unhealthy, but salt is absolutely necessary to sustain life - a fact that the ancients recognized. Every roman soldier was given a monthly supply of salt. The Latin word for salt is sal; the monthly supply was called a salarium, which comes down to us as the word, salary. And a person being “worth his salt.”

We are not talking about the pleasantness of cranberry sauce with turkey or mint jelly with the lamb we might eat. Salt is necessary, not just a pleasantry.

In the second metaphor, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” This is a very powerful metaphor because in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” In John’s Gospel the “light” is what theology calls “sanctifying grace.” We absolutely need to be vivified with that light to be alive and to experience Jesus in the next life.

When Jesus says that we are the light, he is not saying that we ourselves are objects to be noticed, but our light which is Jesus presence within us - grace - makes God’s presence visible to others.

Salt of the earth, light of the world. I suspect that most of us do not perceive ourselves in such noble terms, but that is the way Jesus sees us. It is Gospel.

That is the nature of discipleship, being a bearer of light to others. God expects more than dutiful fidelity to the Ten Commandments in living the Christian life; he expects us to be disciples. The fruit of discipleship is bringing others to loving relationship with God.

It can be a smile, driving courtesy, helpfulness while shopping - all in the name of the Lord - without necessarily mentioning his name.

The Chinese philosopher, Mencius, lived about 300 years before Jesus. He was the last notable proponent of the teachings of Confucius. He was venerated in china almost as much as his intellectual master, Confucius. According to Chinese folklore, his mother had much to do with his success. Her husband died and she was forced to raise Mencius by herself. One day when Mencius returned from school and found his mother weaving, she asked him how he had progressed in school that day. He said, indifferently, “not much.” She said nothing but picked up a knife and slashed to strings her work for the day. He asked why. She replied: “I have only done to the cloth today what you have done with your life today.”

Her story is told over two thousand years later. She was, in a Christian context, salt and light. It is in family and community we see light in the lives of others. Others see our light and we see others’ light. We are mutually empowered.

We often ask what the Gospel means; we question the gospel. We sometimes forget that the Gospel is intended to question us.

How are you being salt? How are you being light today?
Who has been a light in your life?
What did s/he do?
Was it his/her enthusiasm, his/her wisdom, his/ her conviction?

During this time of February, a reflection on salt and light is appropriate. The unreflective life is not worth living. The unlived life -a life without being salt / light - is not worth reflecting.