February 9, 2020
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
In Jesus’ first discourse, after proclaiming the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12) as the new and paradoxical way in which His disciples live their lives, He deals with another question, namely the role the same disciples have in the world, among people. What is their identity, their mission?
The answer, in the short passage of this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt 5:13-16), is all in the two very telling images, those of salt and light: disciples are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Both elements are not self-serving, they are not served alone: salt, by itself, is not edible. Light does not see; it allows one to see, but it is not a reality that is visible to the eyes.
Both are useful for something other than itself: salt is useful for preserving and enhancing the flavor of the elements upon which it is placed; light is useful so that what it shines upon can be seen.
There is a bond of mutual belonging, which Jesus underscores by His words: salt is salt of the earth; light is the light of the world. It’s as if to say that salt and light need the earth and the world to be themselves, and vice versa.
So, we can say that the direction of disciples, of the Church in the world, is to be bonded with the world, to be for everyone, for the world.
If this bond is lost, the disciple loses the sense of his mission.
Jesus warns against this danger when He says that salt can lose its flavor, and light can become ineffective: when disciples stop being a gift for others and are bent on living for themselves, not only do they fail to perform any service, they themselves die.
How can this happen? The text alludes to two possibilities. Salt must lose its visibility to salt items; it must mix with food. It must dissolve, disappear, without leaving anything but its flavor, its effect. Light is just what it shows up, and as such “cannot remain hidden”.
The first possibility of becoming insignificant is precisely when one is afraid of contaminating oneself, of losing oneself, of going out of oneself towards the other, when one remains closed in the small enclosure of one’s ideas and one’s life. There may be the illusion that this serves to protect oneself, to guard oneself; in reality, it is exactly the opposite, it is the only way to become insignificant. Jesus says here that, when this happens, salt is no longer useful for anything, it is thrown out and trampled by people: the same people whose life salt would have given flavor, contemptuously enclose it with futility.
Instead, we stop being light when we no longer offer people new light on things, on life, on history. When one’s way of seeing has nothing different from that of the world, the light remains hidden, and we do not cease to be witnesses of the salvation that has reached us.
Christians are light if they remain united to the source of light, which is the Lord. If this happens, then their life becomes a revelation of the Father’s Life: the last words of this passage tell of a life capable of telling something other than itself: whoever sees it recognizes in it the work of the Father, the action of His Spirit, and gives Him glory.
“So, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”
This is the good flavor and the beautiful light of the disciple’s life.