Jesus did not say ‘you should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world’. He said ‘you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world’. It is true that salt can become tasteless and light can be hidden under a bucket, but that doesn’t stop salt being salt and light being light. The reason Jesus warns us of those dangers is to make us stop and think, to realise again who and what we are, and to renew our commitment and enthusiasm.
Salt has two main uses. It is used to preserve things, to stop them from going bad, and that was even more important in the time of Jesus than it is now, when we have fridges and freezers. But it is also used to make things taste better, to make them more interesting.
Shakespeare wrote a wonderful line about the power of light to overcome darkness: ‘How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’
Our readings this weekend tell us how to be light and salt for the world in plain and simple terms: share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless poor, clothe the naked, do not turn away from your own kin, do away with the yoke, the clenched first, the wicked word. If we do these simple things we will be the light shining in the darkness. But the last line of the Gospel is the most important: ‘your light must shine in people’s sight so that they give the praise to your Father in heaven.’ The light is not ours – it is the light of God’s love shining through us.
During Lent this year, we will be gathering in small groups at different times and in different places, to take to heart the mission Jesus has given us by reflecting on the Gospel stories for the first five Sundays in Lent and on the challenge Pope Francis has laid down for the whole church in his exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. Each of us as individual followers of Jesus, and all of us as a parish community, will be thinking of how we can become what we already are: the salt of the earth and the light of the world.