Today’s gospel Mt 5:13-16 is deceptively simple. It can be over embellished, or made more complex than it need be. Of that I might be guilty. A light that is intended to be seen is simple enough, of course Jesus is talking about faith being visible to the world. That visibility can be in action and in attitude. What more need one say, do all of the details need be spelled out? Does one need to be told how to behave as Christian, on how to make their religion known to the world? More on that later, for now I focus on the two comparisons, salt and light. Couldn’t they be replaced with word and deed? Back to a light, first one under a basket and hidden. Then another, atop a hill.
In the past I have wondered about these two light sources, why were they chosen and what as their reference? I did come up with a conclusion, one hidden and another glaringly visible. For the one tucked away and hidden or protected I envisioned the menorah of the Temple of Jerusalem. It was sacred, so sacred that after the Temples destruction it was changed to nine branches from seven. In its original form it could only reside in the temples sanctuary. It was a sacred light
The other light sat on a hilltop, the rebuild and extravagant city of Caesarea Philippi. That city was rebuilt and renamed to give honor to the emperor (I hope I got the city right, some fact checking might be in order.) There is my comparison, the spiritual light versus the neon glow of a city. How can a light hidden outshine one intended to be a showcase? I could have made the comparison simpler, as that hilltop city was rebuilt and enlarged to show glory to an emperor, the Jerusalem Temple was also enlarged to gain the cooperation of its patrons. Herod the Architect enlarged it, though not for spiritual reasons. He just liked to build things, he built the temple to the true God and also to pagan gods. To him the light that was important was the exterior one, the concrete and not the spiritual.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Jesus, in his little sermon, tells that the light hidden should outshine those feats of architecture. That works of faith should outshine artistry. To bring this into contemporary terms, can the physical and spiritual be renamed corporal and spiritual. Corpus is bodily, that which enshrines a soul. Where is the importance placed? Both have needs and so there certainly good works that serve both the bodily and the spiritual, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One meets people’s physical needs and the other their spiritual. Both make the light hidden become visible. Often though it is the flamboyant that gets the notice, be it a temple building or pagan city. Christ declared He is the way, the truth, and the LIGHT. A light made visible, but not merely by buildings and shrines.
[a corpus on a cross]
To the salt that loses its taste, it serves no good. Why salt though? First, salt is a preservative. It was also used in a covenant. Second it brings out flavor and adds character. It is a spice, it sets apart. What is the salt of Jesus’s followers? What was the salt of Judea? What set both apart from their neighbors? Their behavior, their beliefs, their worship, their attitudes, their customs and traditions and history? Could that be what gave them their flavor? In society, then and now, there often is the desire to dilute cultures to gain conformity. That was the reason Herod rebuilt the Temple, to placate the citizens to accept Roman rule. It was to make them Roman citizens. Good reason for Jesus to instruct them not to lose their flavor, to become complacent. How does that differ from today? Does a nation try and get its citizens to abandon their traditions and customs? I wonder?
To think of this season, the season after the Epiphany and before Lent. It is carnival in Europe, and South America, and in traditionally Catholic parts of the United States such as New Orleans. To the United States it is Football Season. To Catholics and Christians the Christmas Season runs from Christmas day to the Epiphany and winds down at The Feast of the Presentation of the LORD at the Temple. To the nation the “holiday season runs from after Thanksgiving through Christmas day. Salt that has lost its flavor? What feast has more notoriety in the United States, Candlemas or Groundhog Day? Candlemas celebrates the light of the world, did it remain hidden?
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time