These images of salt and light are strong in the readings today and I need to unpack them a little bit with you so you get was going on here.
The Jewish people at the time of Isaiah believe that they have received the light of Revelation which indeed they have. Isaiah although is pushing the idea that that light of Revelation is meant for other people to other nations not just you. Guess what happened to Isaiah eventually? He gets killed. It’s not light to here that story. But even further in the time of Jesus the idea of life was taught by the rabbi’s as being a symbol of good deeds. Do you remember that story of Jesus and the wise and foolish virgins with the lamps lit. They were not the ancient equivalent of a flashlight. That was not Jesus’ point. The point is that that you had better be doing good deeds when the Son of Man comes again or you’re going to be in trouble. That’s what he means by keeping your lamp lit. Just how the rabbi’s thought. Everybody knew that image. The light was a symbol of your good deeds.
In other words, don’t separate faith from works. People do that all the time. They go together like a hand in a glove. Like dovetail [joints] of a drawer. If you pull out the dovetail the drawer falls apart. You need both of the things. So keep them together: light, good deeds. Isaiah is pushing this with the idea of charity. he talks about taking care of orphans, for example. But he also talks about justice: freeing from oppression. That’s not charity, that’s justice. Put the two together. It’s like dovetailing, like a hand in the glove. Don’t pull them apart or the drawer falls apart. That’s the idea behind his preaching.
Now, Jesus knew that very well. As you know, he taught in the kind of tradition of Isaiah the prophet. He used other prophets, too. But Isaiah, especially. So when Jesus was teaching today, he has another image of salt. Now, the ancient world Israel, most of their salt came from the Dead Sea area and that meant it had other minerals in it. It’s not like the stuff we’re used to pure sodium chloride. It was sodium chloride and other stuff mixed in. So the taste would go after a while. It would taste like iron sometimes, or magnesium. Do you want a spoonful of magnesium?
They needed salt (unlike us who eat way too much of it as the doctor will tell you); they needed it to preserve food. Why? They didn’t have refrigerators. They didn’t have freezers. So you had to brime things and pack things in salt to keep things from spoiling. Also, food could be rather dull a lot of times. I remember well my time in Guatemala. We used to joke. For dinner did we have rice and beans or beans and rice day after day after day after day. If there was no salt it got pretty blah. But it’s a great weight loss plan…
So salt was needed in that world and that image was used also in the ancient world to talk about wisdom. St. Paul refers to it in Colossians chapter 4:6. He says you should salt your conversation with wisdom. That was an image used in the ancient world. Salt also referred to wisdom. It referred to purity because you couldn’t capture it. It was a natural product, but also to wisdom. So salt your conversation with wisdom. What you see or hear a lot of today electronically is trashing or pouncing the other person who has a different opinion so you attack and crush them as the goal. This is about wisdom not domination. It’s not about knocking the other person down.
We have a world today that doesn’t believe in a lot of this stuff. I don’t know how much you you read or hear. For example, there’s a lot killing in our world. We’ve got the abortion issue on one hand and the death penalty on the other, and we got all kinds of killing in between. Remember John Paul II asked us to stop killing. Stop it! Life is a gift from God. What about all kinds of economic or social injustice things that go on. We need to pay attention to these things and apply the Gospel to them. It’s part of who we are as Catholics.
I remember this looking at an article published by the bishops back in 1993. I think most people never read it. It bears some rereading. It is called “Communities of Salt and Light,” these images from the gospel. They said at this time the central message is simple. Our faith is profoundly social. We cannot be called truly Catholic unless we hear and heed the church’s call to serve those in need and work for justice and peace. The Church teaches that social justice is an integral part of evangelization, a constitutive dimension of preaching the gospel and an essential part of the church’s mission. The center of the church’s social teaching is the life dignity and rights of the human person. We are called in a special way to serve the poor and vulnerable, to build bridges of solidarity among peoples of different races and nation’s language and ability gender and culture. The article goes on. I don’t think most people read it. Maybe its time to think about it.
The gospel today tells us to do things we may be uncomfortable with. I don’t know about but I don’t find it easy to preach. I’ve met people who find it easy to preach, but usually I don’t like the preaching.
I find it kind of unnerving. For one because you have to challenge people like in today’s readings. It’s a challenge. If you’re always finding comfort in the gospel then you are not listening very carefully. Darn it. Sometimes the gospel is annoying. Here’s one of those things that we have to look at things differently, we have to change, we have to think about others seriously. And how do we do that in ways that criminal justice for everyone, not for one group or another, but for everybody. It is a challenge. Darn it. It is a challenge.
But if you want to accept it then call yourself a Christian. If you want to be comfortable all the time, then don’t bother coming. This is different. The Lord on this day is calling up some something serious. So is the prophet Isaiah speaking in the spirit. How will you respond today? How will you let your light shine, your good deeds, your wisdom, your light, your salt? How will you make that work in the week to come? Only you can answer that question. But I hope what I said today, helps you a little bit. But we can do it, we can all do it, because of the power of Christ the one on whom we feed in the Eucharist. Isn’t that a reason for joy people. Amen.