Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16
Salt and Light
What are the differences between the leader and the follower? When does a follower lead?
The path to leadership is a hard one. True leaders are committed to a goal or a cause. They are also willing to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure for their passion. They gather as many followers by their example as by their ideals. In fact, many measure leaders' goals and passion by their example. Do they merely talk? Or are they willing to walk the path?
In one sense, a follower becomes a leader the moment he or she makes a commitment beyond the norm. At that point, the easy way becomes difficult. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus honored his followers who took the hard way, those who lived out the Beatitudes. Those who sacrificed for the Kingdom would be the salt of the earth and light to the world.
Jesus said to the crowd:
13 You are salt for the people of the world. But if salt becomes dirty, how will it become pure again? Dirty salt has no value, except to be thrown on roads so people can walk over it. 14 You are light for the people of the world. At night, the light from a city on a mountain top can't be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp to hide it under a basket. No, he places a lamp on a stand to spread light throughout the house. 16 So, shine like light before everyone you meet. Then, they can see all the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
In Matthew, Jesus used two images to stress the Kingdom: salt and light. Both point to the example of the follower and its consequences.
Jesus said to the crowd:
13 You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes weakened, by what (means) will it become salty? It no longer has the strength for anything, except, being thrown out, to be trodden over by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain does not have the ability to be hidden. 15 No (one) lights a lamp and places it under a basket, but on a lamp stand and it spreads light for all, those in the house. 16 Thus, let your light shine before men, so they might see the good works you do and may give glory to your Father in heaven.
5:13 The properties of salt make this verse difficult to translate. Salt has various uses: a seasoning, a preservative, and an ingredient for fuel (see commentary below). Because of this variety, Matthew may have even used the various images of salt to jump from theme to theme. As salt seasoned and preserved food, and as it keeps a fire burning in an even, extended manner, the disciples were to improve the tone of society ("season" it), preserve faith, and extend the fire of the Spirit through their evangelization efforts. The translations of "weakened" and "become salt" were deliberately vague because of this fact.
"...of the earth." Here, the term "earth" could mean God's promised land to Israel. Or, it could also refer to those Jews living in the Diaspora. Hence, it could refer to the land or the people (or both!). Unlike the modern western mentality which sees the earth as morally neutral, the contemporaries of Jesus connected the God's blessing upon the people to the land. Evangelization was a means to communicate God's blessing to his people. Even the land would reap a reward for their efforts.
5:15 "basket" is literally "bushel," a Latin measure of grain. Matthew obviously referred to the container that measured the grain.
"those in the house" Contemporaries of Jesus lived in one room dwellings. Hence, a single lamp could well light a house.
5:16 "good works" What good works were the disciples to perform? Three areas come to mind: evangelization, miracles, and works that exceeded those of the Pharisees. Since Matthew wrote for a Jewish-Christian audience that may have kept the Law, his stress had to go beyond the everyday expectations of Palestinian culture. Simply keeping the Law (even in the strict manner of the Pharisees) would not cause others to notice.
In 5:13, the salt referred to the leveling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus. Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun. When the fuel paddies were light in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat. When the family spent the salt block, they would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.
Jesus saw his followers as leveling agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress. Their example would spread faith to those mired in the cultural "dung." But if their example rang empty, they were worthless; they would be dug into the mud under the heels of critics. [5:13]
Jesus also saw his followers as the light of a fire to the world. Placing a light fire under a basket would put the fire out. No, like a city high on a hill, the fire should be placed for all to see. So, one cannot hide faith by inaction. One must show faith in action for all to see, so those seeing the witness can be brought to faith and praise God. [5:14-16].
In essence, Jesus told his followers they cannot have it both ways. One cannot believe as a Christian, yet act as if faith did not matter. Faith leads to action and the action points to the Kingdom.
Catechism Theme: The Lay Faithful (897-913)
How can we be salt of the earth and light to the world? How can our example make a difference at home, in school, at work? We answer the challenge these questions present when we share in Christ's ministry as priest, prophet, and king.
As priest, Christ offered a sacrifice of love to the Father. What sacrifices of love do we offer to the Father? We can offer our married, single, or family life, work, outreach to others, and even relaxation along with our prayers and suffering to God. We can offer them anytime, but the best time is at Mass, when we offer ourselves with Christ to the Father.
As prophet, Christ proclaimed the Good News of salvation. Like his Son, God calls us to evangelize others (both fellow Catholics and non- Catholics) by word and example. We witness most effectively when others see the difference Christ has made in our lives. The credibility of our witness lies in our ability to "get out of God's way" and to allow him to work in our lives.
Finally, as king, Christ became servant to all through his self-giving. Like Christ, God calls us to give of ourselves so the workplace and the home might become more humane. He calls us to serve in our parishes so they can grow and become more alive. He calls us integrate our Christian faith into our daily lives so our service might be His service to others.
So we make a difference as Christians when we offer ourselves to God, when we proclaim the Good News in word and example, and when we serve others. God calls us to worship, to witness, and to give.
Who has inspired you to live as a Christian? What have they done to inspire you?
We followers of Christ become leaders when we try to answer one question. What difference has Christ made in our lives? But in a world of multiple voices and a myriad of distractions, getting the attention of our intended audience is difficult. How do we get that attention? The risk of example. To do something beyond the norm. Something that points to Christ. This is a hard, difficult road to travel for it entails doing the different, doing the unusual. It means putting our reputation on the line. But the reward is the glory of God. That is a goal worth the risk.
What can you do today to be a good Christian example for others?