Gospel – Matthew 5:13-16

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 lampstand,
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.”

Reflection on the Gospel

Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.

Anyone who has taken my Introduction to Moral Theology class at CTU knows that the semi-official
mantra for the course is: “The Christian Life is the moral life; and the moral life is the Christian Life.” In one of the first class meetings, students are introduced to Jesus’ call to discipleship – and as part of a presentation, students are asked to read together a key passage of Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, § 40. This passage is found in Chapter V, “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church.” This text speaks to the heart of what our readings today challenge forth and proclaim.

Without qualification, in today’s Gospel, Jesus provides each Christian with an identity and a vocation. We are to live as “salt of the earth;” “light of the world;” and as a “city on a hill.” These words of Jesus are not addressed privately to the group of his twelve apostles. They are directed to all disciples – to us! He is clarifying and calling us to be present to who we are: we who claim to be as Christians and Catholics – captivated by him and his followers.

In order to actually live into what Jesus asserts as our Christian identity, each of us needs to commit ourselves to make the concept of discipleship concrete and real. There is no half-way reality that corresponds to being “salt” or “light” or “on a hill.” Discipleship cannot remain a mere ideal state or in the mind! Jesus offers us three very familiar objects to help us get hold of discipleship: salt, light, and a city. Each is commonplace and ordinary. Salt for taste and for preservation is very easily detectable, you can’t miss light in a dark room, and a city on a hill, stands as a point of orientation.

Our nation has recently experienced very difficult days. At times it seemed the worst thing that Jesus warned us about was taking place – disciples of Jesus lost their saltiness; their conviction and commitment to gospel values and vision of what true discipleship looks like. Did the community and the world become less tasteful, less inviting because the disciples of Jesus reneged on their saltiness? Did we lose our conviction in what God is doing in the world through Christ, the crucified one? There is a negative side to “saltiness.” Jesus’ warning about “the loss of saltiness” is not a threat but rather an invitation for us to dig deeper into ourselves and to name our own salt. Where is that salt in me? What gifts and talents do we have that we are not using, that we are not putting into the mix of our communities, or have failed to offer the world?

Jesus also asserted – “You are the light of the world.” That is our identity, from the moment in our baptism ritual when we were handed a flame lit from the Easter candle, and told to keep it burning till the end. Jesus relates the light to good actions. The light immediately interacts with another in order to be true to itself. A single light in a dwelling would make life possible for all in the room, removing the cloud of darkness. Further, the light-filled person works to supply basics for human life: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, and clothe naked.” Anyone doing such work is living out the Kingdom of God. Allowing our light to shine by supplying these essential human needs also reveals who our God is, and, in effect proclaims where God is acting. The person who is salt and light must point to the source of the taste, the origin of the light. Jesus says that whoever encounters you as salt and light should be able to say, “Ah, here is where God is.”

How have our salt, light, and visibility as a city – a point of orientation – served the cause for love, justice, healing and nourishment through our witness as disciples of Jesus these days? What – concretely – might we do now toward healing of wounds, bringing about greater truth rather than malicious speech; justice in the face of false accusation; trust in place of fear; sufficiency in place of poverty; graciousness, mercy, and hospitality in place of animosity?

Dawn M. Nothwehr, OSF, Ph.D., is the Erica & Harry John Family Professor of Catholic Theological Ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.