Sunday, February 5, 2017
Salt of the earth and light of the world
Listen to the Word of Jesus,
beginning with today’s experience
Matthew 5, 13-16
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) Key for the reading of both parables:
If you have a change to read Matthew 5, 1-12 which meditated on the eight Beatitudes. The Beautitudes constitute the beginning of the Sermon on the Mountain and describe the eight doors of entry into the Kingdom of God, by a life in community (Mt 5, 1-12). This Sunday we meditate the continuation (Mt 5, 13-16) which presents two well known parables, of the light and of the salt, with which Jesus describes the mission of the community. The community has to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Salt does not exist for itself, but to give flavour to food. Light does not exist in itself, but to illuminate the road. We, our community, do not exist for ourselves, but for others and for God.
Almost always when Jesus wants to communicate an important message, he has recourse to a parable or to a comparison, taken from daily life. In general, he does not explain the parable, because it is a question of things that we all know from experience. A parable is a provocation, Jesus provokes the audience to use its own personal experience to understand the message which he wants to communicate. In the case of the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus wants that each one of us analyzes the experience that he has of salt and light to understand the mission that is ours as Christians. In this world, is there someone, perhaps, who does not know what salt is or what light is? Jesus begins with two very common and universal things to communicate his message.
b) A division of the text to help in the reading:
Matthew 5, 13: The Parable of the salt
Matthew 5, 14-15: The Parable of the light
Matthew 5, 16: Application of the parable of the light.
c) The text:
13 'You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people's feet. 14 'You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
i) Which is the part of the text which struck you most? Why?
ii) In the first place, before trying to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words about the salt, try to reflect within yourself on the experience that you have of the salt in your life and try to discover this: “According to me, salt, for what is it good?
iii) Starting then from this personal experience concerning the salt, try to discover the meaning of Jesus’ words for your life and for the life of the community, of the Church. Am I being salt? Is our community being salt? Is the Church being salt?
iv) For you, what meaning does light have in your life? Which is your experience concerning light?
v) Which is the meaning of the parable of the light starting from the application which Jesus himself makes in the parable?
5. For those who desire to deepen more on this theme
a) Context of the discourse of Jesus:
Literary contest. The four verses of the Gospel of this Sunday (Mt 5, 13-16) are found among the eight Beatitudes (Mt 5, 1-12) and the explanation of how the Law transmitted by Moses is to be understood (Mt 5, 17-19). Then follows the new reading which Jesus makes of the commandments of the Law of God (Mt 5,20-48). Jesus asks to consider the purpose of the Law which according to him is contained in the words: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5, 48). Jesus asks us to imitate God! At the origin of this new teaching of Jesus is found the new experience which he has of God the Father. Observing the Law in this way, we will be Salt of the earth and Light of the world.
Historical Context. Many converted Jews continued to be faithful in the observance of the law, just as they had done during their childhood. But now, having accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and, at the same time, being faithful to the teaching received from their parents and the Rabbi, they were cutting themselves out from their Hebrew past, they were expelled from the Synagogues, from the ancient teachers and even from their parents (Mt 10, 21-22). And in their own Christian community, they heard the converted pagans say that the Law of Moses had been surpassed and that it was not necessary to observe it. They were between two fires. On one side, the ancient teachers and companions, excommunicated them. On the other side, the new companions criticized them. All this caused tension and uncertainty in them. The openness of some criticized the closeness of others and vice-versa. This conflict brought about a crisis which led them to close up in their own position. Some wanted to go ahead, others wanted to place the light under the table. And many asked themselves: “But definitively, which is our mission?” The parables of the salt and the light help us to reflect on the mission.
b) Commentary on the text:
Matthew 5, 13: The parable of the salt
Using images of daily life, with simple and direct words, Jesus makes known which is the mission and the reason of being of the Community: to be salt! In that time, because of the great heat, people and animals needed to eat much salt. The salt was delivered in great blocks by the suppliers and these blocks were placed in the public square to be consumed by the people. The salt which remained fell on the ground, was no longer good for anything and it was stepped on by everyone. Jesus recalls this usage to clarify the mission which the disciples have to carry out. Without salt nobody could live, but what remained of the salt was good for nothing.
Matthew 5, 14-16: The Parable of the Light
The comparison is obvious. Nobody lights a candle to place it under the bushel. A city on a mountain top cannot remain hidden. The community must be light, has to illuminate. It must not be afraid to show the good that it does. It does not do it to make it seen, but what it does can and should be seen. Salt does not exist for itself. Light does not exist for itself. This is the way a community should be: it cannot close itself in self.
c) To broaden the vision on the Beatitudes:
I. The parables in the context of the community of that time
Among the converted Jews there were two tendencies. Some thought that it was no longer necessary to observe the Laws of the Old Testament, because we have been saved by faith in Jesus and not by the observance of the Law (Rom 3, 21-26). Others thought that they, being Jews, had to continue to observe the laws of the Old Testament (Ac 15, 1-2). In each one of these two tendencies there were some more radical groups. Before this conflict, Matthew seeks a balance to unite both extremes. The community has to be a space where this balance can be reached and where it can be lived. The community has to be the centre of irradiation of this lived experience and show everyone the true meaning and the objective of the Law of God. The communities cannot go against the Law, nor can they close themselves up in themselves in the observance of the law. Like Jesus, they have to take a step ahead and show in practice the objective which the law wants to attain, that is the perfect practice of love. Living in this way they will be: “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World”.
II. The various tendencies in the communities of the first Christians
* The Pharisees did not recognize the Messiah in Jesus and accepted only the Old Testament. In the communities there were persons who sympathized with the mentality of the Pharisees (Ac 15, 5).
* Some converted Jews accepted Jesus as Messiah, but did not accept the freedom of Spirit with which the communities lived in the presence of the risen Jesus (Ac 15, 1).
* Others, whether converted Jews or Pagans, thought that with Jesus the end of the Old Testament had been attained and that, therefore, it was not necessary to maintain and to read the books of the Old Testament. From now on, only Jesus and the life in the Spirit! James criticizes this tendency (Ac 15,21).
* There were Christians who lived fully their life in community in the freedom of the Spirit that they no longer considered neither the life of Jesus nor the Old Testament. They wanted only the Christ of the Spirit! They said: “Jesus is cursed!” (I co 12,3).
* The great concern in the Gospel of Matthew is that of showing that these three unities: (1) the Old Testament, (2) Jesus of Nazareth and (3) the life in the Spirit, cannot be separated. The three form part of the same and unique project of God and communicate to us the central certainty of faith: the God of Abraham and of Sarah is present in the community thanks to the faith in Jesus of Nazareth.
6. Prayer: Psalm 27
Yahweh is my light
Yahweh is my light and my salvation,
whom should I fear?
Yahweh is the fortress of my life,
whom should I dread?
When the wicked advance against me to eat me up,
they, my opponents, my enemies,
are the ones who stumble and fall.
Though an army pitch camp against me,
my heart will not fear,
though war break out against me,
my trust will never be shaken.
One thing I ask of Yahweh,
one thing I seek:
to dwell in Yahweh's house all the days of my life,
to enjoy the sweetness of Yahweh,
to seek out his temple.
For he hides me away under his roof on the day of evil,
he folds me in the recesses of his tent,
sets me high on a rock.
Now my head is held high above the enemies who surround me;
in his tent I will offer sacrifices of acclaim.
I will sing, I will make music for Yahweh.
Yahweh, hear my voice as I cry,
pity me, answer me!
Of you my heart has said, 'Seek his face!'
Your face, Yahweh, I seek;
do not turn away from me.
Do not thrust aside your servant in anger,
without you I am helpless.
Never leave me, never forsake me, God, my Saviour.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
Yahweh will gather me up.
Yahweh, teach me your way,
lead me on the path of integrity because of my enemies;
do not abandon me to the will of my foes
false witnesses have risen against me,
and are breathing out violence.
This I believe: I shall see the goodness of Yahweh,
in the land of the living.
Put your hope in Yahweh, be strong,
let your heart be bold, put your hope in Yahweh.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.