First reading Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 111(112):4-9
Second reading 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Gospel Matthew 5:13-16
Today we hear the continuation of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, the beginning of which we heard last week in the Beatitudes. But these two texts are part of the same speech and must be read together if they are to be properly grasped. This business of being “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”, for example, makes more sense when read with the Beatitudes. For when he says, “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world”, who is he talking about? Who is “you”? Well, if you read from the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we’re told that he’s speaking specifically to his disciples. Then, as you read on, Jesus announces that the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, etcetera, are “happy” or “blessed”, for they shall be awarded a divine reward. An attentive reader will notice that he speaks in the third person: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, “they shall inherit the earth”, “they shall be comforted”. But then, right at the end, Jesus’ language shifts. In his final beatitude he says, “happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” It is then that today’s Gospel reading commences: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world…”
I believe this is a crucial point. The plural “you” of today’s Gospel, are not just any listeners, but are specifically those described by the Beatitudes. This is indicated by the final beatitude, which joins the plural “you” to the rest of the Beatitudes before it. With that context, dear brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel reading takes on a slightly different slant. Our capacity to be “salt to the earth” and “light to the world” now hinges upon the extent to which we become poor in spirit, meek, mourners, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted in the cause of right. So rather than being a simple affirmation, the Gospel today is a calling: To be poor in spirit, that is, to adopt the spiritual posture of a humble beggar in constant need of our Lord to survive. To be meek, that is, to bring your strength under control, training yourself to submit every inclination and impulse to right reason and to the Gospel of Jesus. To be mourners, that is, to accept with humility the sorrows that inevitably come our way and to entrust ourselves fully into the hands of Jesus in that sorrow, with gratitude for the chance to suffer with and for him. To hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, to always yearn for the Truth as Jesus has revealed it and to have the integrity to uphold it even at personal cost. To be merciful, that is, to forgive quickly and never to hold a grudge, knowing that we ourselves are worse sinners than those who have offended us. To be pure in heart, that is, to love God with one’s whole heart and to remove everything that gets between us and love of Jesus. To be a peacemaker, that is, not only to seek reconciliation with those whom we fall out with, but to actively seek to establish reconciliation and communion between those around us and never to say a bad word about another. To be persecuted, that is, to be willing to suffer and be unpopular for upholding the faith, either at the hands of others or within ourselves.
If we learn to do these things and live by these Beatitudes, dear brothers and sisters, not only will the eternal reward attributed to each of these be ours, but we will truly become salt for the earth and light for the world. For each of these qualities not only stands out in a world that values the total opposite, but each of these qualities points beyond itself. And that’s precisely the point of salt and light. One does not eat salt on its own! Salt by itself tastes horrible. But when salt is applied to food, it enhances and brings out the taste of the food. It also works to preserve the food it is applied to. But on its own it is useless. Light too points beyond itself. We don’t turn on a light and stare at the lightbulb, nor do we look at the sun. Light exists to make clear and visible what would otherwise be hidden in darkness. In the same way, when a person’s life is characterised by the Beatitudes, it stands out, but it points far beyond itself. Such people draw attention not to oneself, but point towards the incredible love and presence of almighty God and of the sacrifice Jesus has made for us. For that reason, the Lord says in the Gospel today that “your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.” There we have it dear friends, our purpose as disciples of Jesus is to point beyond ourselves so that others may learn to give praise to our Father in heaven. Do we do this? To do so we must learn to stand out, not by parading good works before us, but by making the intensely humble and other-worldly Beatitudes our rule and pattern of life. Let these Beatitudes be written on our hearts, dear brothers and sisters!