5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.”
In his preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, St. Jerome wrote: “How few there are who now read Aristotle. How many are there who know the books, or even the name of Plato? You may find here and there a few old men, who have nothing else to do, who study them in a corner. But the whole world speaks the language of our Christian peasants and fishermen, the whole world re-echoes their words. And so their simple words must be set forth with simplicity of style; for the word simple applies to their words, not their meaning.”
Certainly, St. Jerome exaggerates (we hope) when he says that few now know of Aristotle and Plato, but the central point remains – the language of the Apostles is simple indeed, though the meaning is most profound. The simplicity and clarity of the writings of the Apostles is founded on the simple and pure language with which Christ himself taught his doctrine. And were else to we find such simplicity as in the Sermon on the Mount?
“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Such simple words, yet so rich and full of meaning! As did St. Jerome, I will attempt to express, in that same spirit of simplicity, something of the profundity of the simile of salt.
Ways in which the Apostles are like salt
There are many ways in which the Apostles are to be like salt for the earth. Cornelius a’ Lapide offers handful, we could offer many more.
1) They are like salt, rather than like gold or silver, because salt is universally needful and is ready at hand in all places – So to the apostolic teaching has gone out to the ends of the earth.
2) Salt keeps things from corrupting, so too the teaching of the Apostles preserves the soul in grace.
3) As salt seasons food, so wisdom seasons the minds of the Apostles and, through them, the minds of all Christians.
4) Salt flavors insipid food, and by its pungency renders it pleasant and wholesome – Thus, the Apostles have emended the insipid and foolish opinions, mistakes, and customs of men by their forcible language, and made them pleasing to God and the angels.
5) Salt penetrates the flesh of animal carcasses to preserve the meat from corruption by drying it, so the Apostles have taken away from the minds of Christians all the corruption of the concupiscence of the flesh and preserved them for immortality.
6) Salt, by its pungency, bites and pricks, dries and burns – So too the Apostles, by their sharp and fiery speech, and by their life, have bitten, pricked, dried up, and shaken off the vices of men.
The Apostles make me thirsty
Cornelius a’ Lapide writes: “Salt excites thirst. So the Apostles have excited a thirst for heavenly things. Hear St. Hilary, ‘The Apostles are the preachers of heavenly things and, as it were, sowers of eternity: they bring immortality to all upon whom their speech is sprinkled.’”
The teaching of the Apostles, which has been handed down in Scripture and Tradition, excite the Christian soul to the love of God. And this love is rightly compared to thirst – for it is a love which finds no fulfillment in this life! It is a love which is mixed with pain, as St. John of the Cross said so well: “I die because I do not die.” The more we know of God, the more we love him; and the more we love him, the more we desire to be with him. And so, we have such hope and such longing for the Kingdom that we cry, “How long, oh Lord?”
And to know that our Lover has so thirsted for me, as he cried from the Cross: “I thirst!” How can I bear it? His thirst has excited mine. That his may be quenched, I will remain – to be as salt for the earth, that others might thirst for him who has thirsted.
“Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who he wants to be for you. Or who he wants you to be for him.” – Mother Teresa
O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory. (Psalm 62:2-3)