Purify and preserve His teachings

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, uses some images to describe what His disciples are like. The first image is that of salt. As we know, good salt is very pure so one of its functions is to purify.

Feb 03, 2023

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10;
1 Corinthians 2:1-5;
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16

Acertain man was invited by his friends to a local restaurant for a meal. After having tasted the food, he asked for salt. As far as he was concerned the meal needed some salt to give it flavour. Apparently, the cook had forgotten to add salt.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, uses some images to describe what His disciples are like. The first image is that of salt. As we know, good salt is very pure so one of its functions is to purify. Another is to preserve. And as already mentioned, to give flavour. This then is what Jesus is saying. He says to His disciples, ‘you are the salt of the earth’. He doesn’t say that they should become the salt of the earth. By His very calling of them they have a certain quality about them. But of course we know, as He Himself states, that salt can become tasteless. And then it loses its value. It is also interesting to remember that salt is never actually seen in the food when it is put on the table. It remains hidden in the food and a little amount is usually all that is necessary.

Salt does not draw attention to itself though it is used to give flavour, to improve the taste of the meal. Jesus, in using a very ordinary, well-known commodity like salt, is teaching His followers that they too, wherever they find themselves, are to be people who can purify and preserve His teachings so as to hand them on to others. For the most part His disciples are very ordinary people. They are not meant to draw attention to themselves. What they are asked to do is to live as true disciples of Jesus, so that people will be drawn to Jesus Himself and not to them. And most of the time this work will be hidden – husbands, wives, children, business people, craftsmen, teachers, farmers etc. quietly going about their daily business but doing it as true disciples of Jesus.

Another image used by Jesus in this short passage is that of light. He tells His disciples that they are to be the light of the world like Jesus Himself who once said, “I am the Light of the world”. For many of us living in the so-called First World with electricity available all the time, the image of light may not be so striking. It is probably taken for granted nearly all the time. For many years I worked in the developing world where we had no electricity and when evening came, lanterns were needed to see where one was going. A small light, even a flashlight, could really light up the way and so the importance of light was underlined. Again, like salt, light has no value in being light for itself — its importance comes from the value it has for others. Again, Jesus is asking us, His followers, to be like that.

Some lights, especially very large ones, will light up a large area, others quite small do the same for smaller spaces. We see the same in people. People like St Mother Teresa of Calcutta, even though a small frail woman, was a very large light on the world scene. She would constantly say that any good she may have done came from her close relationship with Jesus who, for her, was the Light who inspired her.

She was in many ways like the moon. The moon has no light in itself, it merely reflects on to the earth the light it receives from the sun.

She tried to be a reflection of Jesus, the Light of the world. She gave meaning, importance, to so many people dying in Calcutta. And because of her incredible witness many other people joined her in her work.

Others are people like the late Nelson Mandela who, in spite of the way he was so harshly treated for many years in prison in South Africa, preached reconciliation instead of revenge when he was eventually released after about 27 years. And he continued to not only ‘preach’ this but live it to the end of his days.

Jesus then, in speaking to His disciples and to us in today’s Gospel, is telling all of us that though we may think we are weak and insignificant, we are very necessary for carrying on His work to bring about His kingdom on earth. The gifts given to each of us by God are not given for private use but must be communicated to others. They must shine through the weakness of its bearers. We can’t all be like St Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela but we can be the best we can be wherever we are no matter how little we feel our contribution may be. That is all the Lord asks of each of us.

“Lord Jesus, help us to believe that we are called to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Give us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be what You ask of us. Amen”.

Reproduced with permission from the Society of African Missions.

Reproduced with permission from the Society of African Missions.

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