In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the images of salt and light to define the disciples and their mission.
The rabbis of Israel used to say: “The Torah—the holy Law given by God to his people—is like salt and the world cannot live without salt.” Jesus applies this image to the disciples.
The first and most immediate use of salt is that of giving flavour to food. Since ancient times, salt has been the symbol of “wisdom”. The image indicates that the disciples must bring to the world a wisdom, capable of giving flavour and meaning to life.
Salt is not only used to give flavour to foods. It is also used to preserve food.
The Christian is salt of the earth: with his or her presence he or she is called upon to prevent corruption, not to allow society guided by wicked principles to rot and go into decay.
In a world where inviolability of human life from its beginning to its natural end is doubted, the Christian believer is salt that reminds of its sacredness.
Where sexuality, cohabitation, and adultery are trivialised, they are no longer called by their names. There the Christian reminds of the holiness the man-woman rapport and God’s plan for marital love.
Where one seeks one’s own advantage, the disciple is salt that preserves, always recalling everyone the heroic proposal, the gift of self.
The parable of the salt is told immediately after the “beatitudes.” The Christian is salt if he or she accepts in full the proposals of the Master, without additions, changes, without the “however,” “if” and “but” with which one tries to soften them, to make them less demanding, more workable.
For example, Jesus says that there is a need to share one’s assets, to turn the other cheek, to forgive seventy times seven. This is the characteristic taste of the salt of the gospel.
However, the temptation for us to add a bit of “common sense” always looms. The arguments that one must not overdo but must also think of oneself; if one forgives others too much, they take advantage or one should not resort to violence unless it is necessary are ways the gospel message gets compromised. It loses its flavour.
Calling his disciples “light of the world” Jesus declares that the mission entrusted by God to Israel to be the light of the world was destined to continue through them.
The image of the lamp is delightful: we are introduced to the humble home of an upper Galilee peasant where a lamp of clay in oil is lighted. It is put on an iron stand and placed on top so that it can illuminate even the most hidden corners of the house. No one would think of hiding it under a bowl.
The invitation is not to conceal, to veil the most challenging parts of the gospel message. The disciples do not have to worry to defend or justify the proposals of Jesus. They just announce it, without fear, without fear of being ridiculed or persecuted. It will be for people as a lamp “shining in a dark place until the break of day, when the morning star shines in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).