Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time preached by Father David Abernethy, C.O. at The Pittsburgh Oratory.
These words in today’s Gospel were spoken to the exact same crowd that last week (2017, Cycle A) heard the Beatitudes and it’s this fact I think that makes them all the more powerful and provocative. Jesus makes the use today of two metaphors.
The first is he says you are the salt of the earth. Now that might not mean a whole lot to us in a day when we have refrigeration but in a climate like Palestine in Jesus day salt was as precious as a man’s life. It didn’t simply make food more palatable but it stayed off putrification that prevented decay and corruption. And so Jesus is saying that those who live the Beatitudes, those who manifest them within the world, are those who prevent the world from falling into corruption. They allow it to continue. It only takes a pinch of salt to do so. It does not take great numbers. It could be one person within a community. One parish within a city. fully living the gospel, reflecting the Beatitudes that can prevent it from falling in to corruption.
The salt in that day was also used in ovens. It was laid down as a base and would help to radiate the heat. But after about a year or so it would begin to break down so it has to be replaced. At that point, Jesus warns its value ceases to exist. It no longer makes food palatable nor can it stay off putrification. It has to be thrown out literally into the roads to be trampled underfoot. That’s exactly what they did with salt in his day. If we fail to live the Beatitudes, if we are Christian only in mind and thought, then we lose our work and our capacity to have an effect upon the world around us.
He also says you are the light of the world. And again with electricity this might fall a little flat for us where we can have light 24 hours a day. In Jesus’ day it was quite different. Each house would typically have a little round window. But once the sun went down in the evening it was pitch black. Typically they would have a little lamp that was used for light. It sort of looked like a gravy boat (I guess is the best way to describe it). And with it would have a wick laying across the top of it and that was the sole source of light from sundown to sunup. So Jesus is saying this is what you are to be to the world: A single candle, a single lamp that can illuminate an entire home, an entire room. A single Christian whose actions, whose deeds, are reflective of the Beatitudes can illuminate the world that has fallen into darkness, corruption, greed, cruelty.
This is what we are called to be. If that light is hidden under a bushel, then it ceases to be able to fulfill its role. It has to be fast placed on a stand. We can’t be ashamed of our Christianity. In fact, we have to live it boldly in Word and deed. Let’s pray today that God once again would strengthen our faith, that he would allow us and our lives to burn hotly in a world that has grown cold. It’s love for God through our words and our deeds, that will prevent it from falling into corruption.
A Bishop once told his priests that they should not be so worried about getting burned out, that they never catch fire. I think that’s true for all of us as Christian men and women. We don’t want to exert ourselves. We don’t want to put ourselves out there in our faith so as to become burned out either through exhaustion or through the rejection of others. We have to live the faith deeply enough. We have to let the fire of God’s love and a spirit burn hotly within us if we are going to illuminate the world, if we are going to purify. Let’s pray today that God will give us the grace in the sacrament we receive to make it so.