Be Salt and Light

02-09-2020Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

We may not realize that the gospel passage of this weekend is a continuation of the great Sermon on the Mount. We are moving beyond the Beatitudes to many of the additional words and messages of Jesus. The images and symbols of salt and light are the two major images we are invited to identity with this weekend in the scripture readings. We are asked to ponder their meanings in our lives and how we further the work of Jesus as we live out being salt and light. Common to every culture is the use of salt and obviously we all need light, whether from the sun or artificial illumination, to live each day.

Salt and light are indeed very basic to human existence. In human history there even have been "salt wars." Light has always been needed and treasured. We need light in darkness and in our world we need light to be able to see and read. When we do not have salt or light, we can feel how much we need them. Without light, human life is impossible. Without salt, the food that we eat is without taste and quite flat.

We, however, realize that to be salt and light for Jesus is difficult. As we find in our second reading, our beloved Saint Paul knew this when he used worldly wisdom to convert the Greeks in Athens. He was preaching and teaching at the Areopagus in Athens when they told him that they would listen to the rest of the message some other time. He wanted to tell them of the Resurrection and shed its light and meaning on them, but they were not at all interested at that time.

When we think about ourselves, we are far less dramatic in being salt and light than Saint Paul was. In our daily life, most often our "salt" and "light" work occurs in the course of living a decent Christian daily life. Our first reading is quite critical in understanding these images which are in use this weekend. In understand the story behind the first reading this weekend, we will gather great insight about being salt and light.

The background is: during the almost half-century of the great Babylonian Exile, much had changed in Israel. Non-Jews now lived there in great number and had intermarried with the few remaining local Jews. The faith in Israel had been altered by these new influences and was in many ways mostly non-Jewish. The returning exiles were shocked by this as they had been hoping to return to the land of the great faith which they had been forced to abandon.

During the exile, these far distant Jews had developed a new awareness and different, fresh ways of being faithful. The Jews in exile recognized that the Lord, their God, was present in their exile. The people were exiled from their homeland, but not from their God. Also, during this time, synagogues came into existence as worship sites in the absence of the great Temple. As significantly, they came to recognize a great theological truth that the God of Israel willed the salvation of all people, not just of Israel. This truth was not acknowledged much or developed at that time.

In today's reading, we learn that God is not impressed by rigorous, self-righteous fasts and sacrifices. The sacrifices the Lord calls for are to share bread, to shelter the oppressed and homeless, and to clothe the naked. The compassionate person who performed these acts was indeed the salt and light which we are called to be. Indeed we do not like to hear that prayer must be accompanied by good works, as prayer alone is easier.