On Being Salt and Light

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, 2020.

Our Jesus said “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” And He adds: Till heaven and earth pass away, nothing—not iota, not dot—will pass from the law until all is accomplished. About the centrality of the law and the prophets, Our Lord and Saviour is unambiguous. And this was underscored on the very day of His Resurrection, when in walking with the two disciples towards Emmaus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets—that is, the Law and the Prophets—He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself, and how they described and gave explanation of how Christ needed to suffer in order to enter into his glory. He underscored this again later that evening when the young Church was gathered in the Upper Room, again emphasizing that everything written about Him in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.

The predominant significance, then, of Our Lord’s teaching—“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them”—is scriptural: we cannot understand Christ without the Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament). If the Church could, then there would be no need for Christ in His resurrected Body explaining to the young Church how to find Him in Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. A helpful image to have about the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament, is this: they are a thesaurus. Why do we use a thesaurus? We use one when we are looking for other words to describe the word we have. The thesaurus is a treasury of words and the relations between words in the whole of language. The Scriptures, commonly called the Old Testament, is the same: they are a treasury of words and images that the Church has used from the beginning, through the help of Jesus, to find words to describe Jesus Who is the Eternal Word, as well as the relations between the Christ the Eternal Words and all other words and images. So to understand anything about Christ—Who He is, How He lives, How He is the Son of God, what He taught, and so forth—we must look at the treasury given to us to understand Him: that treasury is Scripture.

Saint Matthew records two memorable teachings from Our Lord: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” In this Epiphany season, “light” has been an overriding emphasis in our Liturgy, captured and concentrated in our celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and the wondrous words of old Simeon, that our Lord, even as a 40-day old Child, is the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to His people Israel. It is in this sense that we—incorporated into His Body through Baptism and nourished by Him in the Eucharist—are to be light: that in our relationships with the world, God is revealed. God is our light and salvation, so much so that we reveal this saving Light to people we talk to and interact with everywhere we are: that in our Outreach to the world we give knowledge of salvation, that the separation people feel from God is removed, for this is true forgiveness.

How are we to be “salt”? If we look to Scripture, we see that salt is associated with holiness. In Leviticus we read that every offering of grain shall be seasoned with salt; that the people shall not allow the salt of the covenant of God to be lacking; and even more, “With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Later in the Temple, any offering included salt. In Numbers, salt is at the heart of covenant between God and His people. Newborn babies even were rubbed with salt, on the very day of their birth, as described in Ezekiel.

Salt, then, is a cryptic image of Christian baptism. In our baptism, we are consecrated—that is, set apart for holiness entirely through God’s grace. And baptism represents both our vow to God to be married to Him, and the culmination of God’s vow to us, which is the gift of Himself, permanently and irrevocably given. Without this covenant, we are not given the gift of the Holy Ghost; and without the Holy Ghost, no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” Saint Paul teaches—in other words, we cannot worship God without being rubbed with the salt of baptism on the day of our rebirth.

Brothers and sisters, by God’s grace and God’s grace only can we truly be salt and light in the world. By God’s grace only are we baptized and incorporated permanently into His Body and married to God; and by God’s grace only can Christ be the Light to the world through us. Make no mistake, the Christian life is a high calling; but let us also remember the Apostle Paul’s teaching, that our testimony which is our lives is not about lofty words or lofty wisdom—it is about knowing nothing else but Christ and Him Crucified. That fed by the Eucharist and guided by the Holy Ghost, we can follow Saint Teresa’s example to be Christ to the world, and to every person we meet.