Homily for 5 February 2023 by Fr. Gerard Jonas
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
A Pinch of Salt, A Flicker of Light
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
Do you know that a pinch of salt in your fresh fruit juice would perk up its fuller flavor? I read that as a kid and have since been doing it. I even sprinkle a little salt on my ice cream!
The Lord declared that his disciples are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What does it mean to be the salt of the earth?
Salt has been used by humans for thousands of years, from food preservation to seasoning. Its ability to preserve food was a founding contributor to the development of civilization. It helped eliminate dependence on seasonal availability of food, and made it possible to transport food over large distances. Thus, in ancient times, salt was a highly valued trade item.
Salt doesn’t just make food tastier—it’s actually required for life. Sodium ions help the body perform a number of basic tasks, including maintaining the fluid in blood cells and helping the small intestine absorb nutrients. We can’t make salt in our own bodies, so humans have always had to look to their environments to fill the need. Early hunters could get a steady supply of salt from meat, but agricultural groups had to seek it out by following animal tracks to salt deposits.
The Egyptians were the first to realize the preservation possibilities of salt. Sodium draws the bacteria-causing moisture out of foods, drying them and making it possible to store meat without refrigeration for extended periods of time. Delicacies like our modern-day ham and salted dried fish developed from their salt-curing technique.
In the year 800 B.C., the Ancient Greek and Ancient Romans were trading salt for wine. Salt was also used as a currency by the Romans. The Roman soldier’s monthly allowance was called “salarium” (“sal” being the Latin word for salt). This Latin root can be recognized in the French word “salaire” — and it eventually made it into the English language as the word “salary.”
All through history, the availability of salt has been pivotal to civilization. Salt was gathered from the lake during the dry season, when the water evaporated and flats of salt were exposed. The Egyptians got their salt from Nile marshes, while early British towns clustered around salt springs. In fact, the “wich” suffix in English place names like Middlewich and Norwich is associated with areas where salt working was a common practice. Today, salt is almost universally accessible, relatively cheap, and often iodized.
The salt content in bodies of water affects buoyancy. The Dead Sea is reputed as the saltiest sea in the world, with a salinity of around 34%, about 10 times as salty as the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Considering all these significant notes about salt, our reflection on the Lord’s declaration that we are the salt of the earth may take a host of meanings too. The Prophet Isaiah cues us on how to do it: to just be mindful of how we can reach out to someone in need: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.
This is also a good reflection exercise for us here at Mepkin especially now that we are undertaking a dialogue on community life.
Only a little, a just pinch, as recipe books indicate, may be all it takes to season a plateful of food. It doesn’t take that much effort to influence my surrounding. A little smile may be enough to brighten someone’s gloomy day. A kind word of affirmation may be what it takes to buoy up someone’s disheartened spirit. And as salt is not innately manufactured by the body though very necessary for its proper functioning, it is indeed imperative to really care for and reach out to each other. As salary is compensation for work rendered, to be a good presence to the other is a regular expectation to be fulfilled. May it also be the currency that we exchange within our community. And so we can look forward that our community may continue to be full of life and well. As salt is readily available today, our life, our way of life too is so readily available for others to see and emulate. This ties up with the Lord’s declaration that we, His followers, are also the light of the world. Nothing is hidden.
And as salt earth and light of the world, we cannot and should not take pride in anything; salt dissolves, and light effuses for them to be useful.
Notice, the value of salt and light is not in themselves but in how they influence their surroundings. Salt seasons, activates, and preserves. Light illumines and makes it easier to move around. We don’t stare at the light source.
Now, is my little bit really enough?
Jesus says yes, and actually exhorts us not to grandiose projects but to little trickles of life-giving presence. The Saint for the new millennium, St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face attests to this with her spirituality of the “Little Way.” May my little saltiness and my little flicker of light draw others to the true taste and the true look of life and give glory to God.
And for those here for a few days of solitude, you give witness that a little time away is enough to make a difference in one’s life in God, one’s life with others.