Jesus’ words in this Sunday’s Gospel challenging us to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world lead to the question of how are we to do this? The church wisely points us to an answer by providing us with Isaiah’s exhortation in the first reading. You are the salt of the earth and a light to the world by “sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked and not turning your back on your own.”
Christ further challenges us to grow in integrity as salt and light by removing “false accusation and malicious speech” from within and around us. These works of justice are some of the “corporal works of mercy” that Jesus later says will be a part of the final judgment when the Son of Man comes to separate the sheep from the goats. The other corporal works of mercy are visiting the sick and burying the dead. We are invited to participate in these actions now so as to share in God’s activity in the world, but also at the same time we are learning the ways of love through them that enable us to be with him forever.
These are very public acts of justice that the church and local parishes participate in continually. They serve as good criteria as to whether we are truly being a light to the world, a city on a hill and a salt that has flavor. Where are we personally called to be salt and light? This can be a bit more challenging. The “spiritual works of mercy” provide some direction.
The spiritual works of mercy call us to teach the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead. Teaching the ignorant sounds harsh but simply means that every person has a right to know the truth of God’s love and plan as revealed within the fullness of the faith. Thus it is our duty to share the Gospel and the church with as many persons as possible. Admonishing the sinner also seems a bit cold but the idea is that we as Christians have a duty to help one another on the way to heaven. We can do this by lovingly, clearly and respectfully pointing out errors and missteps in conduct so as to keep each other on the path to God.
We are salt and light when we forgive generously those who have harmed us. In this action we mirror God himself who has so generously and willingly forgiven us. The act of willing forgiveness that does not hesitate is a powerful witness of the faith. Bearing wrongs patiently is another great witness that is like a slow burning light that others, when they too are converted, will see for all its glory. Sometimes our actions of salt and light are seen only by the eyes of heaven. Yet this is only for a time. One day all will be revealed to the glory and praise of God and our joy now comes in knowing that in the end it was all for him anyway.
Questions for Reflection
1. Where is it difficult to be salt and light?
2. How is your parish doing at being salt and light?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.