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In our lives, we take the availability of salt and light for granted. If we need to enhance the flavor, we only need to extend our hand out to the saltshaker and out pours pure, white salt that satisfies our taste desires. There is that the same ease in which we access a light. We only need to turn on a light switch or use a flashlight, and we have more than enough light to guide us in our activities at night. In the time of Jesus, salt and light were commodities that everyone viewed as being highly prized. However, in Jesus’ time, light and salt were not necessarily within a hand’s reach.
The limited access to salt in Jesus’ time made it a valuable commodity. In fact, a measure of salt was a welcome portion of wages for the Roman soldier. Then as now, the need for salt comes from its ability to enhance the flavor of a meal. As we know, eating a meal without the flavoring of at least salt, leaves our taste buds dissatisfied. The ancients also knew, rubbing salt into meat and some fruits allowed for a longer storage time. Thus, the absence of salt from a home was a serious concern.
The people of Jesus’ time depended on the sun to provide light during the day. At night, however, the family needed to rely on a flicking firelight or the feeble light of an olive oil lamp. Without the lamplight, one would be reduced to sitting in the dark, unable to perform the necessary evening tasks.
So why would Jesus associate his disciples with the light from a lamp and as the salt of the earth? He doesn’t compare his disciples to gold or jewels, those things of apparent greater wealth. These ornaments, indicating prosperity, were hardly necessary for anyone’s daily existence. Regardless of one’s status, rich and poor, all need salt and light just as we all need access to Jesus’ promise of salvation.
Jesus is expressing the need for the disciples to be the essential commodity in a world that has lost perspective of what is valuable. He directs them to enhance the desired flavors available for the world by showing that there is an alternative to sin and death. The disciples are to be the salt that prevented the putrefaction of lives that comes from placing earthly desires above seeking the promises of Christ. The disciples, through their deeds, bring the zest of Christ’s teaching to all people the hope for salvation. Their examples of leading lives in holiness promote a savoring for the Kingdom of God above all other flavors.
Through Jesus, “the Light of the World,” he brings meaning and enlightenment to all people. Like the moon who gets its light from the sun, the disciples use Christ’s light as their source of illumination to dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in their teaching and preaching. Jesus asks his disciples to work at his side to bring the truth to all the corners of the earth. More just using words, Jesus invites the disciples to lead lives that imitate his love and mercy, to be the light on the hill that guides others to holiness.
In this expression of the potentiality of the disciples, Jesus also cautions them not to become complacent or full of themselves. They cannot be inactive in their missionary work, allowing their potency to diminish like salt that has gone bad or hiding lamp under a basket. One might how can salt lose its flavor or hindering the purpose of a lamp as Jesus describes?
The salt of Jesus’ time was collected along a seashore or picked away from rocky outcroppings without any ability to separate the sodium chloride (the salt) from other impurities. If salt with its impurities were allowed to get wet, the sodium chloride portion would dissolve and leach away, leaving a material that was white in appearance but was not appealing to the taste. Therefore, the salt went bad and became useless.
This residue ended up on the streets where it was trodden on underfoot to prevent contamination of arable land. Jesus indicates that those who received the faith but only in name fail to share his grace and have no purpose in the Kingdom. Those who have turned away from Christ’s teaching have become as useless as salt that has gone bad. They are like salt which has lost its flavor.
No one would consider lighting a lamp and then not using the light to enlighten a room. Christ’s light is meant to illuminate the world. His disciples are to demonstrate the quality of his light by allowing it to shine in every remote area of the world, bringing hope to all people. It is the words and deeds of those who follow Christ that place a beacon on the hill for all to seek the security of heaven.
We are Jesus’ modern-day disciples. Jesus sees us as the salt of the earth and as a lamp on a stand shining out in the darkness. Just as with the disciples of nearly two thousand years ago, our lifestyle has a dramatic effect on those who search for the truth. We, the salt of the earth, are unwavering in our desire to taste the promise and heaven and preserve the way of Christ in our lives. Actions, more than words, give us the tools to be salt that flavors the earth with Christ’s message and the light shining on the hill that promises everlasting hope.
Talking about holiness lacks the same emphasis as living holy lives. Isaiah, in today’s first reading, describes the lives that disciples of Christ lead, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, cloth the naked. We are those noble people, the salt of the earth, the ones who step forward, taking action in the time of disasters, not to shine our own light, but to reflect Christ’s light through our love for God and neighbor.