The sentences that we hear in the gospel reading of today immediately follow the Beatitudes. It is still part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the World” (Mt 5:13-14). Maintaining the same tone of the Beatitude (Blessed are you…), the opening line of today’s gospel is a promise and an invitation: You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world, and you be the salt of the earth and light of the world. What does that mean?
Let me start with the easier part – at least in meaning if not in practice: You are the light of the world. It is clear even in the statement of Jesus. “A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. 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. 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.” As community of the New Israel we are blessed and invited to be visible signs of the glory of God. The believing community, by its own life, invites the world to be part of the Kingdom of God. How would this be realised? By being the salt of the earth!
Salt reminds us of taste and food. In the Scriptures, the reference to salt is often associated with food shared in a special context: the covenantal meal! We know that a covenant between two parties was usually sealed with a meal shared together; and other times, salt was simply exchanged between the covenantal parties. And this exchange of salt was a reminder of that covenantal meal. Therefore, salt was also used in temple offering (Ezra 6:9), including burnt offering (Eze 43:24), because the sacrifice that people offered (often in the form of food) was a reminder to the people of Israel of the covenant with the Lord God. This is the practice that the book of Leviticus (2:13) prescribes, “You will put salt in every cereal offering that you offer, and you will not fail to put the salt of the covenant of your God on your cereal offering; to every offering you will add an offering of salt to your God.” For the people of Israel, the use of salt together with the food in sacrifice was an invitation to build an intimate relationship with the Lord God.
Therefore, the words of Jesus, to us today, could have two levels of meaning. You are the salt of the earth – the blessing: we are that covenantal sacrifice. There is no need for an external sacrifice. A community that has fully accepted the reign of God is the salt of the earth. It is also an invitation: You be the salt of the earth. That invitation of Jesus could simply mean that we are called to be faithful to the covenant with the Lord God; to be in an intimate relationship with God.
Taken together, then, we are called to be light of the world by being the salt of the earth. We are called to radiate an invitation to the world to be part of the reign of God, by being faithful to our own intimacy with God.
Here, it is meaningful to recall a ritual that we perform during the Easter vigil. When the priest blesses the water, salt is put into it, and then the priest takes the Paschal Candle and dips it in the salted water three times as he says the prayer of blessing over the water. Such a powerful image of fecundity and new life! And in the context of the Word of God in today’s liturgy, we are reminded to be intimately rooted in God so that we may continue to shine in the world. Remember the salt of the covenant with God, and be the light of the world.