Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We can gain a deeper insight into what he means by this if we look ahead at the readings for the upcoming weekdays. Beginning on Monday, the first reading each day will be taken from the Book of Genesis, where the story is told of how God created the world, including the creation of the first man and woman. We will see our first parents being tempted by the evil one and falling into sin, thus causing a catastrophic break between humanity and God. We are very familiar with this story: God created the world completely good, our first parents chose not to live in the way that he showed them, and the result was disaster.
What we see in our world today is a continuation of this same story. Like Adam and Eve, we too are tempted to misuse our freedom by choosing not to live in the way that God has set out for us. Indeed, we all do this to some extent; we all sin. The result is the darkness and corruption which we see in the world. Therefore, when Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, he means that we are to be witnesses in the world that there is another way to live. We can choose not to follow the world’s way of trying to make gods of ourselves. We do not have to create our own version of reality – in which my will is supreme and my opinion is truth. Instead, we can choose to give witness that God is God, his word is truth, and his way is right and good. This brings light into the darkness of the world.
Similarly, as Pope Francis teaches in this week’s Spiritual Reflection, when Jesus calls us to be salt, he means that we are to resist the corrupting influence of the world. Salt prevents food from spoiling by creating an environment in which the microbes which cause the food to go bad cannot thrive. Thus, Jesus calls us to set ourselves against the prevailing lies and deceptions of the world. We do what we can in our own sphere of influence to create an environment in which truth, love, humility, sacrifice, and concern for others thrive, and selfishness and pride have no place.
What this looks like in practical terms is shown to us by the first reading and the Psalm. The disciple who is following Jesus’ exhortation to be light and salt in the world is first of all concerned for the good of others, especially those who are the least in the eyes of the world. The follower of Jesus shares bread with the hungry, shelters the oppressed and the homeless, clothes the naked, and does not turn his back on those in need. He is “gracious and merciful and just.” He gives to the poor “lavishly,” and he “conducts his affairs with justice.” We are told that such a person “is a light in darkness to the upright.”
If we want to see the fullness of the way of light, however, we must turn to Jesus himself, who tells us in the Gospel Acclamation, “I am the light of the world, … whoever follows me will have the light of life.” And what Jesus shows us by his teaching, and even more so by his life and his death, is that God’s way, the way of light, goes beyond just sharing what we have with the needy and being concerned for the welfare of others. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross, the way of the love which gives “lavishly” of self, emptying self completely, even to the point of death, for the sake of the other – even when the other is unworthy, even when the other is not grateful, even when the other is persecuting us.
This is the sacrificial love which St. Paul proclaims in the second reading. He who was a zealous persecutor of Christ and his people came to know the merciful love of the One who was crucified to bring him light and life. Moved by joy and gratitude for such love, he “resolved to know nothing … except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He put aside his former ways of pride, power, and worldly wisdom, and chose instead the way of weakness and humility, so that he was able to bring to the Corinthians the saving light of the Gospel, by the power of God. We who have known the same merciful love are called to walk in the same light of the crucified Lord, and thus witness to this light to all of those around us. Jesus tells us: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
What are some of the misfortunes in my life that were caused by my sin? How do I witness to the light of Christ to people around me? How does being weak and humble enable the power of God to change my heart as he did to St. Paul?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.