Pilgrims Pack Light
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father."
A comparison between light and salt would find light winning as the more inviting image. It would be more flattering to hear that our words or actions brought light to a situation than to hear that we brought salt. Of course, to be called the “salt of the earth” is a noble compliment. When we think of the two images Jesus uses in Matthew chapter 5, we can be glad that we are, as His disciples, called to be both. Authentically living what He taught will bring light to the darkness around us. We understand how that can be; the image is clear. Salt can be a less compelling image at first. Disciples might recall that salt preserves what is good in food so that it does not become corrupted. It is also helpful to think of the fact that it enhances and brings out other flavors in food. Salt can also suppress bitterness. Lastly, salt (unlike cinnamon or curry) does not lose its own flavor or effectiveness. Jesus knows that His teaching can and should transform His disciples and the whole world. When His disciples refuse to be the seasoning for the world, it is the same as preferring darkness to light.
Jesus, of course, knew the value of light in life, and of salt in living. Light and salt were basic and foundational. In the time of Jesus, neither was available in the luxurious abundance of today. Considering the context of the salt and light passage helps us understand more about what Jesus was teaching His disciples. The Sermon on the Mount places the two images between the beatitudes and the moral teachings that Jesus “upgrades.”
One can imagine the disciples being inspired by the beauty and the message of the beatitudes. They might have said to themselves, for example, “I want to see God,” “I can be a peacemaker,” “I can be merciful and receive mercy.” The words and the manner of Jesus the Teacher engaged them and invited them into the mystery of His life. They were growing in their willingness to think with Him and to think like Him. He was preparing them to go out on His behalf — and to go out to all the world. Jesus the Light of the world would share His light with the world through these listeners.
Immediately after the compelling images of salt and light, Jesus offers them an extended look into the new things He brought to the world, a transformative new teaching with authority: “You have heard it said … but I say to you … . ” In this part of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tackles serious issues (including anger, adultery, divorce and retaliation). The compelling beatitudes of Jesus are rooted in these challenging teachings which He himself would live, demonstrate and make possible for all people. The beatitudes and the challenging new teachings must be taken together. By them, Jesus brings light to the darkness. He also provides the authentic moral guidance for living lives preserved from the corruption of the immoral and selfish ways people are capable of devising when left to themselves. Jesus offers the salt we need to find the authentic joy in life. His way brings out the best in us.
Most likely, the disciples who heard the teachings of Jesus were at once inspired and challenged. “Love your enemies.” “Yes, that’s what I heard Him say, too.” Seeing Him live what He taught was the light they needed to accept His invitation to do the same. It was also enough for them to accept the rest of His exhortation to bring the salt, to live and teach the truths that preserve and season the circumstances of our lives in a way that keeps us free. As pilgrims in this world, we learn to see that our path is made clear and our sustenance for right living is assured when we become what the Lord Jesus asks us to be. Salt and light belong on our permanent packing list for the journey. Neither of them is heavy when they are part of us because of our union with Jesus. Pilgrims pack light when the challenge of Jesus’ teachings shines through them.
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