Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Wonders of Salt

We are so used to salt on our table, and this is so relatively cheap that we do not care to study how wonderful this food is for us. As our rector in the seminary once repeated this proverb, "Familiarity breeds contempt." Indeed we no longer appreciate the wonders of salt because it is too familiar to us.

We will first reflect on the wonders of this special creation of God, salt, because our Gospel reading today is about this substance. Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth. The reading immediately begins with "Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth.” To understand better what Jesus meant by this statement we need to know the wonders of salt and properly value its importance.

Most Bible commentators explaining this passage of the Gospel comment on the two qualities of salt which are very familiar to us. Salt improves the taste of the food and preserves the food. Therefore they conclude that by calling his disciples the salt of the earth Jesus referred to these qualities of salt. His disciples improve the quality of life on earth and preserve the earth from moral corruption. This is a very good explanation but lacking, very much lacking.

We know and affirm that it was Jesus who created all things. According to John without him nothing came to be. Thus it was Jesus who created salt. And he alone knows the full nature and uses of salt. And now with the help of science we know that salt is not only used to improve the taste of food and preserve it from decay or putrefaction.

When Jesus spoke this affirmation that his disciples were the salt of the earth he surely meant these two qualities and uses of salt but he did not mean to confine his meaning to these two qualities. After all he said that he would send the Holy Spirit who would teach us all things (John 14:26). And now the Holy Spirit through his men and women of science has enlightened us more about this salt. And Jesus’ meaning can have a broader and more wonderful application.

We know from chemistry that salt or table salt is sodium chloride. Now we know the very many uses of sodium chloride. Salt is used to produce caustic soda and chlorine. Salt is also used to produce PVC or polyvinyl chloride, plastics and paper pulp and many other products. It has been used to counter effect caking or the hardening of substances. It is also used to prevent iodine deficiency through being iodized. Salt makes us float in the Dead Sea. Salt was used to pay the Roman soldiers. This is the reason why we still use the word “salary” to refer to the payment of workers, because the “sal” in “salary” is the Latin word for salt. It was used by Gandhi and the Indians to affirm their independence from the British rule. It was traded by some people for gold, weight for weight. It was also used by other tribes to drive out evil spirits. Even today when the priest makes holy water a pinch of salt is dropped on the water. And this is believed by some as the reason why demons flee from holy water. St. Teresa of Avila said that there is nothing the demons fear most than holy water. According to her they fear the holy water more than the crucifix. Is it the salt in the holy water that the demons fear most?

Shall we go on enumerating the uses of salt in history? It was used as a material for taxation. It provoked wars between peoples. It is used to de-ice highways. Salt is spread on highways that are covered with ice to melt the ice. It is used by some farmers as fertilizer, especially for coconuts. It is used as an electrolyte, that is, it conducts electricity in a solution. It has built cities by people gathering around its source.

There are three potential uses of salt which I have not yet read discussed in my research on this substance. The first is that it can boost the explosion of fire. You notice that when you throw salt in fire a crackling sound is heard. This sound comes from a mini explosion of the salt grains. The second is that salt produces magnetism. I have a theory that the magnetism of the earth is due to the salt in the oceans. The third is that because salt produces magnetism it also produces electricity. Hence when we carry salt we produce electricity but this is very minimal. I have not found these three possible uses of salt discussed in scientific journals. But they add up to the wonders of salt.

Salt has been made into a lamp. It is used to purify the air, to counter the positive ions which come from our electronic gadgets. These positive ions deplete our energy. We need negative ions to fight these positive ions. The salt lamp gives us these negative ions to renew our energy.

These wonderful uses of salt tell us that salt is most valuable in our life. Jesus created salt to give us all these wonderful uses of salt.

But perhaps we can say that the most wonderful use of salt is that Jesus used this as the first element in his teaching. We notice that Jesus used objects to paint a mental imagery which would aid him in his teaching. He used seeds, soil, trees, birds and so forth to make his teaching colorful and understandable to those listening. But the first object he used is salt. He compared his disciples to salt. Later on he would tell us to have salt in our heart. He said, “Keep salt in your hearts and you will be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). This is the most wonderful use of salt. It was used by Jesus to tell us about himself and about us.

Knowing these many uses of salt Jesus can say to us his disciples, You are the chlorine in salt which purifies the water of God’s grace. You are the PVC tubes from salt which carries the blessings of God to human kind. You are the salt which de-ice human hearts cold with indifference to the things of God. And many more too many for us to enumerate now.

In our Gospel passage we also read Jesus telling his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” In John’s Gospel there are two passages where Jesus says, I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5). We, the disciples of Jesus, are the light of the world because we get our light from Jesus who is the light of the world, just as the moon gets its light from the light of the sun.

In the same way we are the salt of the earth because we get our saltiness from the salt which is the rock of ages. Some other sources of salt besides the sea are rocks. Jesus is that rock of salt which makes our life pleasant and preserves us from the corruption of the world, the devil and the flesh. He is the rock of salt which can have a hundred and one uses in our lives.

Let us pray to him now borrowing from the hymn Rock of Ages. This is a favorite hymn of the Knights of Columbus. We get the first stanza for our prayer.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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