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February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 5: 13-16

We are listening, these Sundays, to the “Sermon on the Mount”, which is found in Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel according to Matthew. Last Sunday we heard Jesus announcing the Beatitudes. Today we hear the passage that invites us to be light and salt, while next Sunday Jesus we will talk again about the new righteousness that animates the disciples (5:17-37).

Already this layout, this structure of the account of Jesus, gives us an indication: Jesus does not say, as would be logical, that we should behave differently from others, to be salt and light; and then to be blessed. There is not, in short, a before and an after. First conduct yourselves well and after, and then, you will be light and salt and therefore blessed.

Jesus immediately reverses this logic, which instead is deeply rooted in us, and announces that the Kingdom of Heaven has a style all its own. The Kingdom of heaven is first of all a completely new life, which the encounter with Christ gives gratuitously to all, especially to those who do not deserve it according to human criteria. It does not arise from a decision of the will, by human effort. It is the encounter with Christ that, sometimes slowly, sometimes all at once, transforms lives. If we remain united to Him, if we let His Spirit act in ourselves, we discover that within ourselves there is another life, different, that we find within us.
If we allow the old man to die, the old righteousness, then we find we are happy or blessed, no longer thinking of returning evil for evil, despising others, defending oneself in every possible situation. On the contrary, we live in the logic of the Paschal Mystery, of the life that one finds when one loses it.

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12; cf. Is 42:6; 49:6). But his role has now been passed on to his disciples (cf. Acts 13:47). Today, Jesus tells us that when and in the degree that we let this happen, that is when we let his life live in us, then, we are light and salt. Also our actions, consequently, will be new, because they will proceed from a new life. This is what we will see next Sunday.

Today, Jesus is concerned to tell us who we are. He invites us to be among those who are able, by their presence to help others grow.
Salt and light are two elements that do not serve themselves: light does not illuminate itself and salt is not used alone. One does not see light, but is the element that allows us to see. Salt, so that it carries out its function, must be diluted and become invisible in the preparation of foods. In short, one does not look at light, and one does not eat salt alone. They are “relational” elements, that fulfill the meaning of their existing, only giving themselves to others. Light allows those who are in the dark to see; salt is what allows every food to better render its flavor.

Then we could say that those who have found the life of God in themselves, who have recognized in their own history the presence and love of the Lord, then, by themselves, without doing anything else, become a gift for others.
And they become it, not by imposing themselves, not by adding anything to what the other is lacking, but simply by helping the other to recognize in him/herself the same life, the same love of the Father.

This applies not only to friends, neighbors, relatives. Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth and light of the world (Mt 5:13,14): for the earth, for the world, for everyone.
Whoever has found his own face – which is an image of Christ’s Face – becomes a leaven of new life beyond what he himself might think; he triggers a dynamism from unforeseen outcomes, like a chain reaction, a “domino effect.” And this, simply because life, when it is true, begets other life. It is the lesson that so many saints, throughout the history of the Church, have given us.

How does it happen? “Let them see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
This new life is manifested in new acts, the “works” so dear to the evangelist Matthew. But the purpose of these good works is not the display of our virtues, but to focus attention on God who inspired them ( “and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, 16). It is in so doing that one becomes light for all (cf. Phil 2:15).

Finally, Jesus warns of a possible risk: the risk is that the salt “loses its flavor” (Mt 5,13), and that the light will “remain hidden” (Mt 5:15).
If a lamp, for fear of losing light, ceased to give light, it would be useless; if salt, for fear of disappearing, stopped salting, it would serve no purpose. Their existence would be useless.
If a disciple, for fear of losing life by giving it, keeps it for himself, not only does he not generate life but he himself dies.

For this reason, it is interesting to stop for a moment on the expression that translates to “lose flavor” (moraino in Greek). In the New Testament this expression occurs only four times: in today’s passage, in its parallel in Luke (Luke 14:34), at the beginning of the Letter to the Romans (Rom 1:22) and at the beginning of the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:20). And in these two latter texts, the expression indicates someone who thinks he is wise (that is, salty, savory!) and is instead, in the logic of God, a fool. He thinks he is wise because he deceives himself by thinking he can save himself, and this precisely is his great folly.

We ask that the Lord saves us from the fear of losing life, which is then the real reason for all kinds of our loneliness, and that He gives us Gospel wisdom, which puts into the world the light and the taste of the Kingdom of Father God.

+ Pierbattista

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