5oaHomily for Mass – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 7:30am & 5:00pm

9 February 2014

(Readings: Is 58:7-10;  Ps 111;  1 Cor 2:1-5;  Mt 5:13-16)

Amongst all the difficult precepts that Jesus gives his disciples to follow, he adds in amongst them some statements that are more like praise of his disciples: encouragement to them to live up to the ideals he has presented them.  If I said to someone: ‘you’re a gem!’ or ‘you’re an inspiration’ or ‘you’re a great example to others’ – perhaps that is something like what Jesus was meaning when he said to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; … you are the light of the world.”

But, of course, these statements were far from mere flattery.  To consider them we learn some important things about the nature of being a follower of Christ.  We note that Jesus talks about his disciples being salt.  It might seem funny to say it, but Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that they were the sugar of the earth.  We’re not meant to be “sweeteners” – making everything “nice” – making everyone “feel OK.”  If we say things like, “oh, it doesn’t really matter what you do, we all get to heaven anyway” – that’s not the Gospel that Jesus preached.

No, he told his disciples that they were salt.  Salt is something that stings, and that bites.  If you put salt in a wound, it hurts!  And perhaps this says something about why, at times, when we consider the commandments of God and the teachings of Christ, they bite a bit, we might even feel a bit stung.  This is because we are wounded in our sins and by our sins, and so when the salt of the Gospel first comes to our ears, it stings, it bites.  We recoil, initially.  But as we let the truth of the Gospel sink into our hearts, we realize its sting is only temporary, and we are stung because of our wounded state.

Salt, ultimately, is something that preserves.  And so the salt of the Gospel is something that preserves us unto everlasting life.  It preserves us through all the vicissitudes of earthly life, and keeps us for the life of eternity that we are made for.

Jesus says that his disciples are salt of the earth.  This points out that their call as his disciples is not just something for themselves, or their immediate families, or even just for their nation.  They are salt for the earth – the whole world.  This points to the scope of our vocation as Christians – it isn’t just something private and personal, but a vocation that looks to the world;  a vocation of following Christ for the salvation of the whole world.  Faith is not, then, just my business – but something that puts us into a relationship with the world for its benefit.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to have that outward looking focus … I think this is a theme that Pope Francis has been restating in various ways.

The second image that Jesus uses – the image of being the light of the world – also reveals the nature of being a follower of Christ.  Light illumines.  It shows the way.  It lights up the darkness.  It helps us walk where we want to go without tripping.  Again, this points to the service that Christ’s followers are meant to exercise for the benefit of the world.

At various times through history it can be shown how the Church rendered this service in the world.  Authors will demonstrate how the monasteries saved western civilization.  All the social institutions that we take as being normal parts of society, have their origins in the church: hospitals, schools, universities.

The Church holds out perennial values for the world – values that are, in fact, written in the natural law by God himself.  Beyond these things found in the natural law, we have divine revelation – the things that Jesus has revealed and taught.  We’ve had in recent days the United Nations trying to tell the church that it needs to change its teachings on a number of matters.  But anyone who thinks that the Church can simply change its teachings by majority vote, misunderstands that what we believe and teach has been given to us through the different modes of revelation.  We have received it, and we pass it on – but the church is not just a big committee that can rewrite its beliefs as it so chooses.

This fits with the image Jesus uses of his disciples being the light of the world.  If you consider a light, whether it be the sun or an electric light, a light is never changed by what it illuminates.  A light doesn’t moderate itself to suit that which it shines on.  And if we consider the extreme:  when a light globe becomes just like the dark room it is in (that is, when the globe blows and no longer shines) – it’s useless, and needs to be thrown out, and replaced by a globe that is going to shine like it’s meant to.

Just as salt stings to begin with, light can be blinding if we’re accustomed to the dark.  The light of truth can seem harsh at first … but it is a light that we will become accustomed to the more we stand in it.  The light of truth helps us see our way clearly … and we can therefore walk freely, less fearful of tripping over obstacles concealed in the dark.

Jesus said to his disciples, and so he also says to us, those who are his disciples in the world today: You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  We are called to bring the salt and the light of the Gospel to our world today.  This is the service we render to the world … and we do this so that the world might be saved.  Jesus is not flattering us by calling us salt and light;  rather he is steeling us for the challenge of preserving the world for eternal life, and of shining his light to overcome the darkness of sin, evil and death.

Every week, we need – absolutely need – the nourishment of the Eucharist to help us to live up to our Christian vocation.