February 6, 2011 - Sunday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” He also says, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus is telling us that we are different. If the flavor of salt was the same as the flavor of the food, it would be useless. No one sprinkles some potatoes on their potatoes or adds a dash of rice to the rice, for flavoring. Salt must be different than what it is flavoring. If a light is not brighter than what is around it, it does not deserve to be called a light. Light is not a remarkable thing in the daytime, but at night the smallest light becomes immensely powerful. Nobody takes note of the flashing blue light on the DVD player at noon, but when you are trying to sleep it might as well be a 1000 watt light bulb. Each, both salt and light, is important and useful because it is different from its environment.

What are we to flavor? The earth. What are we to light up? The world. When Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, he is telling us that we have to be different from the world. The flavor of the world is selfishness, greed, lust, laziness. This world is boring. This world is dull. This world lacks flavor. Light is a sign of goodness, and there is some light in this world. There are people who do good things naturally. We, however, must do better. If we are going to light up the world, we have to be significantly brighter than the world around us.

Perhaps someone does not believe that the world is lacking in flavor, that it is very dim. We have some guinea pigs at our disposal. There are people who spend their days trying everything that the world has to offer, trying to find something with real flavor. These people are the rich and famous, the celebrities. Some of them spend their whole lives trying to find flavor, being consumed in the search. Some of them realize that everything this world has to offer is bland in the end, so they go looking for something different than the world, and often end up believing in nonsense. Immense wealth and a lot of free time should add up to people who are happier, but it almost never does.  

Some here today do not need to look so far outside themselves. They have arrived here after tasting the whole world and finding it insipid. Others have arrived here without tasting much of the world at all, but simply believing what their eyes tell them: there is no satisfaction in this world. We are here today because we want something different. And if we want something different and the something different is not out there in the world, we are going to have to be something different. We are here today because we want to be salt; we want to be light!

We have a problem though: we are children of this earth; we are of this world. If something is going to change the flavor of the world, it must come from outside of the world. If there is energy bright enough to make sunshine seem dim, it too must come from outside the world. Jesus came into this world from outside. He continues to send the Holy Spirit to us from outside of the world. Jesus is different; the Holy Spirit is different. Here we have real difference! This is where our flavor and light is going to come from: the teachings of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The world praises wealth, sex, and freedom. These three values express everything the world has to offer. There is nothing intrinsically evil about these.  Wealth, sex, and freedom are all gifts from God to humanity, but without some salt they will be very dull. The teachings of Jesus point us to the proper flavoring: poverty, chastity, and obedience. The world is without flavor because it loves wealth without poverty, sex without chastity, and freedom without obedience. The world tells us that we are the fools because we refuse to have an unlimited love for what the world values. We refuse to love money itself; instead we appreciate being able to buy bread for the hungry, homes for the homeless, and clothing for the naked. We refuse to love sexual pleasure itself; instead we wonder that God has given to men and women the ability to participate in his creation. We refuse to love freedom itself; instead we love the opportunity that freedom gives us to live in accordance with the truth.

A little salt goes a long way. A little light in the darkness can seem very bright. The saints very rarely did great things, as the world sees great things. Very few saints were kings or queens or popes. St. Francis just chose to live in the woods and beg for his food. Mother Theresa just chose to care for dying people. Neither of them put up an advertising campaign to spread the word about their magnificence. The whole world knows about them because they were different, and seeing something different was very shocking to the world. The difference caused some people to hate them. It caused other people to give up their lives and follow them. When we see light in a dark place we can choose either to shield our eyes or to celebrate that light has finally been found.

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” How amazing that Jesus entrusted us with this role. Very few of us Christians ever end up being very different from the world, which is sad, because that means that most of us live very dull lives. Nevertheless there are little differences in our lives that add some flavor. When we come to Mass every Sunday, we are a little different. When we pray before we eat, especially in public, we add a little excitement to the world. When we choose to live our lives according to a moral code that is incomprehensible to the world and sometimes even difficult for us to understand, we are a little more interesting. Still, the possibility remains for anyone who would like to do something with their life: you could always try being different, being salt in a bland world, being light in a dark place.