Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
When Jesus presents the images of salt and light in today’s Gospel from Matthew, he is describing some of the primary characteristics for his community of followers. As salt adds flavor to food, so Christians are to bring hope and meaning to their world. As light reveals what is hidden in darkness, so Christians are to bring wisdom and truth to others. To be Christian is not to sit back, give thanks, and savor God’s blessings. Just as salt and light are gifts from God for everyone, those who follow Christ are to be agents of God’s love for all. Saint Paul describes this further, teaching that we might begin by embracing humility and vulnerability. Isaiah calls us to be generous and to work for justice. These are the characteristics of a “city set on a mountain,” a community of salt and light.
LAMPS AND BUSHEL BASKETS
Jesus uses the present tense, “you are” salt of the earth and light of the world. This can be troubling to hear, upon a little reflection, when we already suspect that we are not. It’s easy to see how often we fail to truly be salt and light for others. This can lead to discouragement and a fear of failing again. But Jesus says that being salt and light is God’s gift, and not our own accomplishment.
He notes the “bushel basket” that prevents the light of the lamp from being seen. We have created and received all kinds of patterns of thinking and behaving that block our capacity to be light for others. But these patterns do not define us. Whatever our faults, we are primarily God’s beloved and gifted people. We can have hope that God will assist us in addressing our “bushel basket,” to overcome what blocks our ability to love others. Jesus’ Good News for us is that we are ultimately not the bushel basket, but the lamp.
CITY ON A MOUNTAIN
Often, we envision Jesus’ imagery of salt and light applied to the life of individual Christians. This is indeed appropriate. However, along with “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”, we hear of a “city set on a mountain.” Clearly, these images are also directed to Christian communities. A parish, for example, is called to have a visible, caring presence in its local area. As salt and light, a community of faith can add its own flavor and wisdom to its surroundings.
A faith community can have its own “bushel basket,” too. This might include unresolved internal conflicts, or a lack of welcoming to strangers, or just being too internally focused. These can prevent the community from demonstrating God’s love. However, just as with individuals, God can lead the faithful to address these obstacles, and to become salt and light more fully for their neighborhood.
Today’s Readings: Is 58:7–10; Ps 112:4–9; 1 Cor 2:1–5; Mt 5:13–16