• Sunday 5 A

    Posted on January 28, 2017 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

    Of Salt and Light


    To better understand Jesus saying to the disciples, “You are the Salt of the Earth,” we need to do some adjusting of our perceptions.  Today we hear more of the negatives connected with too much Salt, high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity.  In Jesus time salt was looked on much differently.  It was used not only to improve the taste of food but also to preserve meat and fish.  Salt in the ancient world was a precious commodity.  Roman soldiers were partially paid with packets of salt (“sal” in Latin); this was the origin of our word “salary” and of phrases like “worth his salt.”

    Here in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas we have some rich natural salt deposits.  They are found at La Sal del Rey (El Sal del Rey) and La Sal Vieja (Old Salt) in western Willacy County.  In the book HISTORIC RIO GRANDE VALLEY by Marjorie Johnson she notes:  “Because salt is so important to both animals and man for many purposes—flavoring, medicine, meat preservation, water purification, mining and steel smelting, the salt deposits have been utilized and coveted by many.”

    “Warring Indian tribes from north and south of the Rio Grande harvested supplies of salt to cure meats and tan hides, resuming their battles only after they had left the area, for the tribes did not attack each other while on salt missions.  Spanish explorers claimed the lakes for the king of Spain.  At one time, Santos Coy of Camargo employed 500 men and used 10,000 mules in connection with the operation of the Salt Train, which traveled as far as Durango and Zacatecas in the interior and Veracruz on the Gulf coast. Ships from Spain, France, and England returned to their European ports loaded with salt after bringing supplies to their colonies in the New World.” Pp. 21,22


    So when Jesus says, “You are the Salt of the earth,light of the world.”  These are words of blessing, but also words of commission.  The importance of salt in Jesus’ time and even its importance in our own valley as illustrated above, gives us an insight into how precious we are in God’s sight.  Salt was a precious commodity to the people of Jesus’ time, to the first peoples of our valley and later to the king of Spain, the Mexican government, the Republic of Texas, the state of Texas down to our own time of first private ownership and now to the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.


                    Jesus also uses these metaphors to remind Christians that we have a responsibility in the world.  We are commissioned.  Christians can lose their effectiveness and value in the world, and therefore be discarded as useless. The symbol of rejection in the Gospel passage is powerful, “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”  Matthew is constantly warning his church: the rejection which befell Israel can befall you as well. This is a word of warning to us as powerful as the word of blessing that he offers in the image.

    In the history of the Church we have seen the Church become so identified with the world that she lost her voice, her witness, and her power for a season.  The Russian Orthodox Church did just that under the final days of the czars, and when the communist revolt came, the people threw out the church as well as the czars.  In Central and South America the Catholic church was for a long time identified with the rich.


    Both salt and light are most effective when they draw attention, not to themselves, but to something beyond themselves.  When used in seasoning food, salt works best when it enhances the flavor of the meal and is not even noticed by the one eating.  Similarly, a well placed lamp is one that does not itself stand out, but rather illumines well what is noteworthy in the room.  We are called to improve the quality of human existence and preserve it from destruction. This has particular importance now in the era of Climate Change deniers.  Pope Francis has spoken powerfully on this topic.

    We have heard the song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Children learn it and sing it with delight.  As simple as the words may be, and as airy the melody, the message is profound.  In fact, it can be fully understood only by adults, for it is a proclamation of one’s willingness to give witness to one’s faith. Like salt, our care of others will bring out the best of a world that has turned sour; like the radiance of a lamp, we can enlighten a world that is floundering in darkness.  We can be a city set on a mountain for all to see, a refuge and safe haven in a world threatened by hatred and terror.  Ours may be only a little light, but if each of us lets it shine, we can indeed make a difference. As Pope Francis says: “When we see a person who is hungry we pray for them, then we feed them, that’s the way Prayer works.”  We must pray and act.




    5th Sunday of the Year “A”+

    “You are the salt of the earth.”

        In Jesus’ time, salt was used not only to improve the taste of food

    but also to preserve meat and fish.  When Jesus compares his followers

    to salt he says that they improve the quality of human existence and

    preserve it from destruction.  (Collegeville commentary, Harrington).

        salt is both a spice and preservative

        Salt in the ancient world was a precious commodity (even monopolized

    by the royalty in Egypt and Persia).  Roman soldiers were partially paid

    with packets of salt (“sal” in Latin); this was the origin of our word

    “salary” and of phrases like “worth his salt,” etc.

        Webster dictionary:  (pl.) any of various mineral salts used as a

    cathartic (Epsom salts), to soften bath water (bath salts), as a

    restorative (smelling salts), etc.

        (Colloq.) a sailor, esp. an experienced one

        ??salt of the earth (after Mt. 5:l3:) any person or persons regarded

    as the finest, noblest, etc.

        ??worth one’s salt  worth one’s wages, sustenance, etc.

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