HOMILY FOR V SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A (5TH SUNDAY) 5TH FEBRUARY
THEME: GIVE FLAVOUR AND SHINE
By: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
Many years ago a large group of Indians staged a non-violent protest over salt tax. The protest march lasted for 24 days and the people covered a distance of 390 kilometres. The protest was against the British colonial masters who imposed tax on everyone who used salt and this law also gave the British authorities the right to be sole collectors and distributors of salt. This tax affected all people – rich and poor, but the poor people suffered even more, because not all of them were able to pay the tax. The implication of this tax was the untold suffering that it brought to the poorest of the poor who had to eat their food without salt. Mahatma Ghandi led the protest, which forced the colonial masters to change this draconian tax law.
Jesus understands the power of salt and that is why he used it as a metaphor when he says to his listeners: “You are the salt of the earth.” As an eloquent speaker, He uses simple examples or metaphors, such as salt and light to drive his message home and this is why ordinary people as well as sophisticated people can easily understand and relate with his message. Salt and light are essential elements that people of every tribe and culture can identify with. No wonder the Romans say, “There is nothing more useful than sun (light) and salt” (nil sole et sale utilius).
Salt is very useful in our diet. We may moderate our intake of salt, but we can hardly live entirely without salt. Salt appears in different forms in the food and fruits that we eat. Salt is used for various other reasons: to give flavour/taste to food and to preserve meat. Salt is also used for healing, especially as anti-bacterial. Salt also has the capacity to induce thirst. In temperate countries, salt is used during winter and snow to de-ice the roadways and make it safer for vehicles.
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Several passages in scripture speak about the usefulness of salt. The scriptures speaks about offering animals with salt (Leviticus 2:13), covenant of salt in Numbers 18:19 and in 2 Chronicles 13:5. The prophet Elisha using salt to purify polluted water and made it portable (2 Kings 2:20-21).
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus emphatically says to his followers. We cannot overemphasise the importance of light in the world, but we know that when we are enveloped in darkness we have a tendency to stumble and fall. In his wisdom, God created light first “when the earth was waste and void and when darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2-3). Light is not only essential for human beings and other animals, but is also vital for plants. Biology tells us that photosynthesis is a process where plants depend on sunlight to convert light energy into chemical energy. We receive light through major sources such as sun, moon and stars and through other means such as lamp, candles, electricity, etc.
It appears confusing to hear Jesus saying your light must shine before others. Some listeners will quickly ask: How can we let our light shine before others when in Matthew 6:1-4 Jesus warns against practicing your piety (prayers, almsgiving and fasting) before others or in order to be seen by others. We can easily reconcile these two passages of scripture that seem to be contradictory by saying Jesus discourages the sort of piety that attracts attention to you – that which gives glory to the creature and relegates the creator to the background. On the other hand He encourages the piety and charity that gives glory to God who is the source of grace and providence. This kind of piety is that which says, “Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory (Psalm 115:1).
There are good people (people of light) who refuse to associate with bad people (people in darkness). On the contrary, those who live in light are to share the light with those who are in darkness and not just to cluster together and insult and vilify people in darkness. St. Francis of Assisi prayed: “Where there is darkness, let me sow light.” The Psalmist says, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright” (Psalm 112:4).
Jesus is not asking his followers to be like thunder and lightning to the world because these can be destructive. But he asks them to be the kind of light which prophet Isaiah speaks about “the light that breaks forth like the dawn – slowly, steadily and surely. Please note also that Jesus invites his listeners to be salt of the earth and not to be pillars of salt like the wife of Lot. To be a pillar of salt is tantamount to being an extremist who repels others, rather than attracting others to the faith. When one turns into a pillar of salt he is so hardened and fixated that he is neither useful to himself nor useful to others.
More still, the prophet Isaiah enlightens us about what it means to be light to the world: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.” As Salt and light make a difference in food and surroundings, so are all people called to make a difference, to influence and make impact in the world around them. Since salt makes one thirsty, all people called not only to make the world tasty (a better place) but also to make the world thirst for righteousness. Jesus desires that everyone becomes a model for good life, charity and justice, a model of good manners, a model worthy of emulation. There are people who say to you “You are the light of my life” because through you or with you they find hope, joy, peace and you have offered them an opportunity to renew their lives and a reason to live.
5th Sunday of the Year A; Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16;
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