In the Gospel passage, which is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew uses the metaphor of salt to illustrate what happens when discipleship’s fervor and enthusiasm for the Word of God goes flat – it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out.
Jesus used ordinary images, such as salt and light, to convey extraordinary truths about the kingdom of God. Salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. People traded with it like we trade with gold and stocks. Salt not only gave food flavor, it also preserved meat from spoiling. Jesus used the image of salt to describe how his disciples are to live in this world. As salt purifies, preserves and penetrates, so the disciple must be as salt in the world of human society to purify, preserve and penetrate that society for the kingdom of God, his righteousness and peace.
Our task is to flavor the world with our faith. Each loving thing we do is like a grain of salt and a ray of light adding flavor to someone’s life; bringing light to someone’s darkness. Our mission is to be light-bearers of Christ so that others may see the truth of the Gospel. Both symbols of salt and light demonstrate that even a little does a lot. This is especially encouraging when we think we do not have much to offer.
The challenge of this Sunday’s gospel passage is to grow to the fullness of who we are created to be. Sadly, today, the understanding of “be myself” is selfish and self-centered. “I will do whatever I want; take care of number one; it’s me first; if it feels good – I’ll do it!” And so on.
A classic song made popular by Frank Sinatra was, “I Did It My Way,”:
I planned, each charted course,
Each careful step, along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
It seems the main message here is that “I have succeeded in life because I did everything for me.” There is a backdrop of fear here, something about feeling forced to do everything according to someone else’s will and resenting it. The world and its population is very, very large and it is no surprise that mass production, mass advertising, mass purchasing and mass media, give us the feeling that we are just a cog in a giant, international, industrial wheel worth nothing in and of ourselves other than contributors to and consumers of a mass market. To do it “my way” is a statement about facing down this perceived great machine and defying it outright. I will fight to proclaim my victory and my freedom.
Sacred Scripture tells us the opposite. It reveals to us that every human being is created with a unique, deep interior. Rather than fighting to do my will – no matter what – I am created to allow the Spirit of God find a home deep within my interior space so that I may discern and do God’s will. Becoming myself means becoming what I was made to be: a home for the Spirit of God. God’s love will become us. It will help us find ourselves so that we can become who we are created to be.
The metaphors of salt and light are intended to show what disciples are called and anointed to be: the salt of the covenant and the light of Christ in the world. True discipleship will bring about change both in our life and in the life of the world.
Today’s first and second reading also focus on living for others. To be light is the task for everyone as a unified body: for we, the Church, the Body of Christ, are called to be visible signs and instruments.