Salt and Light: Taste of the Earth and Light of the World

Lectio Divina: 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

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1)     Salt[1]and Light[2]

In the early centuries, persecuted Christians were brought into the Colosseum for the amusement of the ancient Romans who wanted to experiment strong magnified emotions. Torn to pieces by the lions, the martyrs were the “salt” for the palate, for which the spectator people were eager.  The crucifixes on burning wood were torches of “light” for the greedy eyes of the public. The pagans of the time, but also those of today, wanted a show with lights and exciting flavors.

     Then, the Christians came “on stage” not as actors, but as martyrs knowing to be spectacle to the angels and to the world.[3] I would also add that they were also visible to God, whose ” eyes are always on the righteous ” (Ps 33/34, 16) and therefore in the first place on the martyrs,[4] whose blood was the seed of other Christians, an offering of freedom and a sign of hope that becomes a reality.

      In fact the martyrs are par excellence the salt and the light of the world. Of course they were so in the heroic way, but we too are called to be witnesses (the Greek word “martyr” means witness) without worrying about herculean deeds. This is not about doing extraordinary things. It is a matter of salt, to be salt that gives flavor. The salt is the capacity to suffer, the sign of the Covenant. The salt shows an adult faith that does not flee in front of the cross, that has patience in suffering, that understands the sense it of, that sees, transfigured in death, resurrection and life.

      The method of Christian testimony is dictated and illustrated by the heart of Christ that, pierced, immediately responds with blood and water and with a love that goes to the end. For this reason, the paradigm and the fulfillment of the Christian testimony is martyrdom. Martyrdom contradicts the logic of the world, because the martyr responds to the fear of death that hates life with a love for life not afraid to die for it because the life of the martyr is the risen Christ. Christ has conquered death and sin. Martyrdom today, as always, is the greatest Cultural Revolution that can happen. The martyr, in itself, is an eliminated witness, a deleted witness. But in the logic of the cross the elimination accentuates the power of the testimony and the expression of charity. The Christian martyr is indeed the icon of the heart of Christ who, hated and pierced, exceeds in the charity of forgiveness, the gift of life and mercy. The martyr becomes not only a witness of Christ’s love, but also of the excess of this love in a superabundance of charity and gratuity, which spills over the edge of death and hate.

     Let’s look as closely as we can to Christ on the Cross. If we are not standing next to the cross like Mary and John, “at least” let’s embrace the foot of the Cross of the Savior as did Mary Magdalene so that we are transformed in Him and He lives in us.

     By the acceptance of our daily cross, our life polishes, crops and sizes all that in us is an obstacle to our adherence to Him.  For this reason it is in weaknesses, hardships and failures that the mission for which we were born is fulfilled. Just when we are nothing the power of God explodes in us. Let’s not despise anything then of our sufferings, anxieties, failures and frailties. It is in those moments that we are salt, light and yeast. This is because we are what we are: poor clay in the creative hands of God. It is enough to have a total and constant abandonment to God who works in us and with our small or great suffering, turns on the light for the world.

     Jesus speaks in simple terms, starts from the everyday experiences that everyone can understand and, therefore, also uses the images of salt and light. Salt in those days allowed keeping food and it was a symbol of loyalty and continuity; light made ​​life possible and it was its symbol.

2) The Christian identity.

     “You are the salt … you are the light … “. Jesus first announces the new identity given by God to those who listen to him and follow him. His disciples and all Christians are now, and not by their own choice or merit, light and salt for all mankind.

     In this identity of Christians it is written a task, a mission, not as a duty that is added after or from the outside, but as a natural consequence of what we are.  As it is for salt and light, we are for the entire world a sign that God exists and is the Father, and that Christ is the incarnated Light, which makes man the light of the eyes and the heart.

      In saying “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus tells us that all human nature corrupted by sin has become tasteless, but through our ministry of testimony, the grace of the Holy Spirit will regenerate and preserve the world. For this reason the Savior teaches us the virtues of the Beatitudes, the ones that are the most necessary and the most effective for us that want to look like Him.  The one who is meek, humble, merciful doesn’t confine in him the good works that he has done. He instead makes these beautiful springs gush also for the good of others. The one, who has a pure heart, is a peacemaker and suffers persecution because of truth, is the person who devotes his life for the good of all. If we melt like salt, we give flavor to the life of the world and we build a culture of life and a civilization of love.

      When the salt dissolves in the food, this one will now have taste. When Christ dies, the humanity is reconciled to God, who gives meaning to life, which then assumes fullness of meaning and taste along with safe direction.

     The Christian who becomes a witness and therefore a martyr, does not rebel in front of the suffering and the injustice that he suffers. From him the world receives a credible sign of eternal life (in fact one can’t accept death if he does not have within him the fullness of life) and every work and action are purified. The Christian life becomes a liturgy in which, through it, Christ offers men toGod after having enlightened them and purified their actions.

      3) The Martyr, the light of a friend who bears witness to the true Light.

     It is true: it seems that violence, totalitarianism, persecution and blind brutality will prove stronger silencing the voice of the witnesses of the faith, who can appear as the defeated of history. But the risen Jesus illuminates our fragile testimony and makes us understand the meaning of martyrdom.

     In the defeat and in the humiliation of those who suffer because of the Gospel acts a force that the world does not know: “When I am weak – says the apostle Paul – then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

     It is the power of love, defenseless and victorious even in defeat. It is the force that challenges and triumphs over death.

     “You are the light of the world.” So Jesus said to his disciples, and so He repeats to us, his disciples today. One is no light, if he is not in love: “He who loves his brother abides in the light” says St. John, and if we are in the light, this one illuminates more the needs of others. Jesus is identified with the poor and for the Christians this gives a new light on the reality of the poor. Jesus who pronounces over the bread the words: “This is my Body” said these same words also of the poor: “You did it to me.” And it is as if He says “That beggar, in need of a little of bread, the poor man who stretches out his hand, that’s me.” Jesus asks us to have this attitude: to help the needy to be the light of the world. In a humanity which is dominated by indifference and selfishness, Jesus asks us to love to be light. He teaches that love is such as to
illuminate the lamp on the lamp post. In a humanity mired in a vacuum and that constantly challenges death, salt is needed to give back to her the flavor and the enjoyment of life. No one eats one tablespoon of salt, but puts it in the food to make it tastier. We must not love only ourselves and become selfish and self-centered, but we must put our love in others. It is with mutual love that life acquires taste, meaning and gives joy and happiness.

      In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah reveals the concrete way of being light: through orderly effective and concrete charity that bends toward the poor and the suffering: ” If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech; if you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday (Isaiah 58: 9-10).

     In the friendly light of us Christian, men find the true light: the light of true life.

4) The martyrdom of virginity.

     All our lights are turned on in the martyrdom of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross and, of course, in the martyrdom which was the source: the martyrdom of Christ the Light.

      Christ calls everyone to be witness of this life. A life in which every moment , even the most hidden, simple and trivial, is a good  and beautiful work of God in us  so that men, looking at us , can give glory to God and so that blasphemy against the name of God spoken by many in front of death , is converted into a blessing .

     In this the Consecrated Virgins are of example.  By offering their virginity they become a special ostensory of Christ like the Virgin Mary. These women are martyrs on the model of Mary, Virgin and Mother, because virginity is not to give up on love but to give oneself completely to Love, to God-Charity, in whose heart all are welcome. They show that by living a virginal vocation one arrives to the transfiguration of oneself and of the relationships with others lived in the same way as Our Lady lived them. They remind to all the Christian the vocation to be the intact dwelling place of God.

Roman Rite – V Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 9, 2014

Is 58:7-10; Ps 112; 1 Cor 2: 1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Ambrosian Rite

Are 66:18b-22; Ps 32: Rm4:13-17; Jh 4:46-54

Holy emotions.

                                                           Spiritual Reading

                         “You are the salt of the Earth… You are the light of the world”

                                                       DECREE AD GENTES
                             ON THE MISSION ACTIVITY OF THE CHURCH # 35-36

“Since the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of      God, this sacred synod invites all to a deep interior renewal; so that, having a vivid awareness of their own responsibility for spreading the Gospel, they may do their share in missionary work among the nations. As members of the living Christ, incorporated into Him and made like unto Him through baptism and through confirmation and the Eucharist, all the faithful are duty – bound to cooperate in the expansion and spreading out of His Body, to bring it to fullness as soon as may be (Eph. 4:13).
Therefore, all sons of the Church should have a lively awareness of their responsibility to the world; they should foster in themselves a truly catholic spirit; they should spend their forces in the work of evangelization. And yet, let everyone know that their first and most important obligation for the spread of the Faith is this: to lead a profoundly Christian life. For their fervor in the service of God and their charity toward others will cause a new spiritual wind to blow for the whole Church, which will then appear as a sign lifted up among the nations (cf. Is. 11:12), “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) and “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). This testimony of a good life will more easily have its effect if it is given in unison with other Christian communities, according to the norms of the Decree on Ecumenism”.

[1] SALT, which is normally used on foods to make them tastier and also to preserve them, has these symbolic meanings especially in the biblical world: 1. The salt of the covenant and solidarity.  In ancient Near East, there was a covenant of salt, a synonym for an inviolable covenant. 2. The salt of love. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mk 9, 50). 3. The spice of life. In the Middle East a newborn baby is rubbed with salt to give him vigor and vitality (Ezek. 16.4), and also to keep away the evil spirits from his life. 4. The salt of wisdom. We too indicate a person without intelligence saying that he is “tasteless.” To put the salt of intelligence and reflection in one’s words means to become people who can advise, support, comfort and guide others (Col 4:6) . 5. Salt of death. Saltwater doesn’t quench, salt poured on the wound burns, the salt flats of Dead Sea don’t support life. In ancient times in the East as among the Greeks and Romans when they wanted to considered dead forever a city conquered and razed to the ground, they poured salt on its ruins. 6. Salt of the curse. Throughout the Bible it is repeatedly spoken of the “curse of salt”: Dt 29.22; Jer 17.6. 7. Salt of purification. Sacrificial victims were sprinkled with salt to make them pure.

[2]LIGHT that illuminates and warms has these meanings: 1.It is the first creature that God wanted to create “Let there be Light.” 2. God is Light, “He is light and in him there is no darkness” (1 Jh 1:5). 3. The Word of God is light: “Your word is a lamp to our feet” (Ps 109.105). 4. Jesus proclaims himself the true light of the world come to light every man (John 1:5; 8:12). 5. Light source life: the world plunged into a perpetual darkness would die, as well as a plant dies.

[3]“  For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike” (1 Cor 4:9).

[4] Tertullian writes: “We multiply whenever we are harvested by you: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians” (Apol. 50.13: CCL 1,171).

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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