Sunday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16
When I was an altar boy, the lady who watered the plants on the altar complained that the flowers were dying no matter what she did. Father asked if maybe she was over-watering them. She said no; in fact, over the last two weeks she had even started pouring holy water into the soil, but the flowers only got worse. Father looked at her and said, “Please don’t do that. When we bless the water, we put salt in it.”
Of course, she wouldn’t have seen that. That’s kind of the point of salt; it disappears into other things, changes how they taste or act. As our Lord was implying, we don’t focus on the salt but on the things it’s used in. The same with light; we don’t think about the light itself, but on what it allows us to see or do.
This brought up two questions in my mind. The first one I asked myself. Who in my life has been salt and light? That is, who has shown me what it means to be the person Jesus talked about last time when he spoke of the beatitudes?
Several people: My father, who worked without complaint as many hours as he could, as many jobs as he needed, to provide his kids with the Catholic education he never had; blessed are the meek. My mother, who brought her own elderly mother and her disabled brother home to live with us; blessed are the merciful. My wife, who took in an abused, injured baby long after her own children were grown, cut her work hours, and poured her life into getting him the services and therapies he needed; blessed are the single-hearted. My best friend, now deceased, who received an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s yet, when he grieved, did so not for himself but for his wife and children; blessed are those who mourn. And the nun who appeared at our house one day and fed my family with food and good cheer in a time of pain and crisis; blessed are those who hunger.
If I had said to any of these people, “You know, you really have been the salt of the earth and light of the world for me,” they wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. In fact, I did write a letter to Sister and tell her. She wrote back to me that, if I wanted to see people who had really done something, I should meet the nuns she now lived with; they had built schools, raised money, founded orders. She said, “I have done almost nothing.” The others would’ve said something similar: “What do you think I am, some theologian? I don’t have any great words of wisdom to teach anybody. I’m still working it all out myself!” But God knows what they had forgotten, what we heard from St. Paul: My faith didn’t depend on their wisdom, but on the power of the Holy Spirit working through them. I didn’t need those people to be great theologians, spiritual counselors, or anything else that they weren’t; I needed them to be who God made them to be; to use the talents and abilities he’d already given them. Jesus didn’t say in the gospel that we will be the light of the world or the salt of the earth; he said that we are.
That brings up the second question: Am I actually being salt and light? Wait; didn’t I just quote Jesus saying that we already are? Yes, but he also said that salt can lose its taste, and light can be hidden. In other words, salt and light don’t have a will or an agenda, they just do what they do. We, on the other hand, can be pretty easily tempted to look for ways to draw attention to ourselves, to show what great and holy people we are. Pretty soon – in fact, on Ash Wednesday, coming up – we’re going to hear Jesus talk about that, and it’s pretty much like dumping salt water into flower pots: He’s going to advise us, in his own way, don’t do that. We have to will to be salt and light for the world, and then do so for the benefit of others.
OK, how? Well, that depends on our own situation, but in general the outline was given in the first reading. For example, Isaiah urged us to share our bread with the hungry. Is it really that simple – just hand out food to hungry people? Maybe; if you’ve ever been to the food pantry, you know there are a lot of hungry people. But remember too that there are all kinds of hunger: Some for food; others, for someone to listen to them; still others, someone to visit them. The same for shelter, clothing, and all the rest; the list goes on and on. It can be overwhelming, which leads to discouragement, so take the advice of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
In other words, start somewhere. But start; that’s the point. The salt isn’t getting any fresher, the light any brighter, until we put our will, our humility, and our back into it. Then, there is no limit to what salt and light can do; not for our benefit, but, as our Lord said, that others may may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.
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