5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 5th February, 2017
Liturgical ReflectionMatthew 5:13-16
English is a language richly embellished by imagery; and today’s Gospel passage reminds us that much of this imagery comes to us from the Bible: the olive branch as a symbol of peace; the serpent as a symbol of cunning deceit; lambs to slaughter as symbols of innocence. How often have you described someone as the salt of the earth? Why did you use that image? What did Jesus mean when he used it?
We find today’s Gospel passage embedded in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching the crowds. He begins with a surprising litany of those who are blessed/ happy/fortunate; a litany familiar to us as the Beatitudes. Then he offers them the homely images of salt and light, calling imagination into play to illumine his message. So, who are the people he calls salt of the earth and light of the world? Those who deal gently with others, who hunger and thirst for justice, who practise mercy, who are peacemakers, even when ignored or persecuted. What salt does for food, he says, those listening to him are to do for the world around them: preserve from decay whatever good is there; season it with wisdom; flavour it with love. How well are we listening?
The image of light recalls Jesus’ forthright declaration in the Gospel of John: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. How, then, can Jesus call his disciples the light of the world? Only in so far as they live as he did, becoming his light-bearers, shining the light of his truth into the darkness of their world. The darkness of evil and its bitter fruits are still with us; but we have been promised that the power of Christ’s light is such that the darkness cannot extinguish it. How well is it shining through my life now?
Jesus’ use of imagery in his parables has transformed our understanding of our relationship with God. Remember the good shepherd, or the father of the prodigal son. Salt and light, too, are images of transformation. As salt transforms food, as light transform a dark place, so those who follow Jesus are transformed by their union with him, their sharing of his life and his mission to transform the world. That mission is to be accomplished not by the usual strategies and tactics of power and force but by the power of love. The practice of the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us through these images, could transform the world into the kingdom of God.
Sr Mary Britt OP