POPE FRANCIS ON THE 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS
“John Garang” Mausoleum (Juba)
Sunday, 5 February 2023
Today I would like to make my own the words that the Apostle Paul addressed to the community of Corinth in the second reading and repeat them here before you: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Yes, Paul’s concern is also mine, as I gather here with you in the name of Jesus Christ, the God of love, the God who achieved peace through his cross; Jesus, the God crucified for us all; Jesus, crucified in those who suffer; Jesus, crucified in the lives of so many of you, in so many people in this country; Jesus, the risen Lord, the victor over evil and death. I have come here to proclaim him and to confirm you in him, for the message of Christ is a message of hope. Jesus knows your anguish and the hope you bear in your hearts, the joys and struggles that mark your lives, the darkness that assails you and the faith that, like a song in the night, you raise to heaven. Jesus knows you and loves you. If we remain in him, we must never fear, because for us too, every cross will turn into a resurrection, every sadness into hope, and every lament into dancing.
I would like to reflect, then, on the words of life that our Lord Jesus spoke to us in today’s Gospel: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). What do these images say to us, as disciples of Christ?
First of all, that we are the salt of the earth. Salt is used to season food. It is the unseen ingredient that gives flavour to everything. Precisely for this reason, since ancient times, salt has been a symbol of wisdom, a virtue that cannot be seen, but that adds zest to life, which without it becomes insipid, tasteless. Yet what kind of wisdom does Jesus mean? He uses the image of salt immediately after teaching his disciples the Beatitudes. We see, then, that the Beatitudes are the salt of the Christian life, because they bring the wisdom of heaven down to earth. They revolutionize the standards of this world and our usual way of thinking. And what do they say? In a word, they tell us that to be blessed, to be happy and fulfilled, we must not aim to be strong, rich and powerful, but humble, meek, merciful; to do no evil to anyone, but to be peacemakers for everyone. This, Jesus says, is the wisdom of a disciple; it is what gives flavour to the world around us. Let us remember this: if we put the Beatitudes into practice, if we embody the wisdom of Christ, we will give savour not only to our own lives, but also to the life of society and of the country in which we live.
Salt does not only bring out flavor; it also has another function, which was essential at the time of Christ: it preserves food so that it does not spoil and go bad. The Bible had said that there is one “food”, one essential good that is to be preserved above all others, and that is the covenant with God. So in those days, whenever an offering was made to the Lord, a little salt was added to it. Let us hear what Scripture says about this: “You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your cereal offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt” (Lev 2:13). Salt thus served as a reminder of our basic need to preserve our relationship with God, because he is faithful to us, and his covenant with us is incorruptible, inviolable and enduring (cf. Num 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5). It follows that every disciple of Jesus, as the salt of the earth, is a witness to the covenant that God has made and that we celebrate in every Mass: a new, eternal and unbreakable covenant (cf. 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 9), and a love for us that cannot be shaken even by our infidelity.
Brothers and sisters, we are witnesses to this wonder. In ancient times, when people or peoples established a pact of friendship with one another, they often sealed it by exchanging a little salt. As the salt of the earth, we are called to bear witness to the covenant with God with joy and gratitude, and thus show that we are people capable of creating bonds of friendship and fraternal living. People capable of building good human relationships as a way of curbing the corruption of evil, the disease of division, the filth of fraudulent business dealings and the plague of injustice.
Today I would like to thank you, because you are the salt of the earth in this country. Yet, when you consider its many wounds, the violence that increases the venom of hatred, and the injustice that causes misery and poverty, you may feel small and powerless. Whenever that temptation assails you, try looking at salt and its tiny grains. Salt is a tiny ingredient and, once placed on food, it disappears, it dissolves; yet precisely in that way it seasons the whole dish. In the same way, even though we are tiny and frail, even when our strength seems paltry before the magnitude of our problems and the blind fury of violence, we Christians are able to make a decisive contribution to changing history. Jesus wants us to be like salt: a mere pinch dissolves and gives a different flavour to everything. Consequently, we cannot step back, because without that little pinch, without our small contribution, everything becomes insipid. So let us start from the little things, the essential things, not from what may appear in the history books, but from what changes history. In the name of Jesus and of his Beatitudes, let us lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge, in order to take up those of prayer and charity. Let us overcome the dislikes and aversions that over time have become chronic and risk pitting tribes and ethnic groups against one another. Let us learn to apply the salt of forgiveness to our wounds; salt burns but it also heals. Even if our hearts bleed for the wrongs we have suffered, let us refuse, once and for all, to repay evil with evil, and we will grow healthy within. Let us accept one another and love one another with sincerity and generosity, as God loves us. Let us cherish the good that we are, and not allow ourselves to be corrupted by evil!
Let us now pass to the second image used by Jesus, which is light: You are the light of the world. A great prophecy was told of Israel: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6). Now that prophecy has been fulfilled, because God the Father has sent his Son, who is the light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12), the true light that enlightens every person and every people, the light that shines in the darkness and dispels every cloud of gloom (cf. Jn 1:5.9). Jesus, the light of the world, tells his disciples that they, too, are the light of the world. This means that, when we receive the light of Christ, the light that is Christ, we become “luminous”; we radiate the light of God!
Jesus goes on to say: “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt 5:15). Again, this was a familiar image in those days. Many villages in Galilee were built on hillsides and were visible from a great distance. Lamps in houses were placed high up, so that they could illumine all the corners of a room. When a lamp was extinguished, it was covered with a piece of terracotta called a “bushel”, which deprived the flame of oxygen and thus put out its light.
Brothers and sisters, it is clear what Jesus means by asking us to be the light of the world: we, who are his disciples, are called to shine forth like a city set on a hill, like a lamp whose flame may never be extinguished. In other words, before we worry about the darkness surrounding us, before we hope that the shadows around us will lighten, we are called to radiate light, to give brightness to our cities, our villages and homes, our acquaintances and all our daily activities by our lives and good works. The Lord will give us strength, the strength to be light in him, so that everyone will see our good works, and seeing them, as Jesus reminds us, they will rejoice in God and give him glory. If we live like sons and daughters, brothers and sisters on earth, people will come to know that all of us have a Father in heaven. We are being asked, then, to burn with love, never to let our light be extinguished, never to let the oxygen of charity fade from our lives so that the works of evil can take away the pure air of our witness. This country, so beautiful yet ravaged by violence, needs the light that each one of you has, or better, the light that each one of you is.
Dear brothers and sisters, I pray that you will be salt that spreads, dissolves and seasons South Sudan with the fraternal taste of the Gospel. May your Christian communities shine radiantly, so that, like cities built on a hill, they will shed the light of goodness on all and show that it is beautiful and possible to live with generosity and self-giving, to have hope, and together to build a reconciled future. Brothers and sisters, I am with you and I assure you of my prayer that you will experience the joy of the Gospel, the savour and the light that the Lord, “the God of peace” (Phil 4:9), the “God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3), desires to pour out upon every one of you.
Saint Peter’s Square
5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A REFLECTION, 9 February 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s Gospel Reading (cf. Mt 5:13-16), Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world” (vv. 13-14). He uses a symbolic language to indicate to those who intend to follow him some criteria for living presence and witnessing in the world.
First image: salt. Salt is the element that gives flavour and which conserves and preserves food from corruption. The disciple is therefore called to keep society far from the dangers, the corrosive germs which pollute the life of people. It is a question of resisting moral degradation, sin, bearing witness to the values of honesty and fraternity, not giving in to worldly flattery of careerism, of power, of wealth. “Salt” is the disciple who, despite daily failures — because we all have them — gets up again from the dust of his errors, and begins again with courage and patience, every day, to seek dialogue and encounter with others. “Salt” is the disciple who does not look for consensus and praise, but strives to be a humble, constructive presence, faithful to the teachings of Jesus who came into the world not to be served, but to serve. And there is a great need for this attitude!
The second image that Jesus proposes to his disciples is that of light: “You are the light of the world”. Light disperses darkness and enables us to see. Jesus is the light that has dispelled the darkness, but it [darkness] still remains in the world and in individuals. It is the task of Christians to disperse it by radiating the light of Christ and proclaiming his Gospel. It is a radiance that can also come from our words, but it must flow above all from our “good works” (v. 16). A disciple and a Christian community are light in the world when they direct others to God, helping each one to experience his goodness and his mercy. The disciple of Jesus is light when he knows how to live his faith outside narrow spaces, when he helps to eliminate prejudice, to eliminate slander, and to bring the light of truth into situations vitiated by hypocrisy and lies. To shed light. But it is not my light, it is the light of Jesus: we are instruments to enable Jesus’ light to reach everyone.
Jesus invites us not to be afraid to live in the world, even if sometimes there are conditions of conflict and sin there. In the face of violence, injustice, oppression, the Christian cannot withdraw into self or hide in the security of his own enclosure; the Church also cannot withdraw into herself, she cannot abandon her mission of evangelization and service. Jesus, at the Last Supper, asked the Father not to take the disciples out of the world, to leave them, there, in the world, but to guard them from the spirit of the world. The Church expends herself with generosity and tenderness towards the little ones and the poor: this is not the spirit of the world, this spreads light, it is salt. The Church listens to the cry of the least and the excluded, because she is aware that she is a pilgrim community called to prolong Jesus Christ’s saving presence in history.
May the Blessed Virgin help us to be salt and light in the midst of the people, bringing to everyone, by example and word, the Good News of God’s love.
Saint Peter’s Square
5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A, 5 February 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
These Sundays the liturgy offers us the so-called Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew. After presenting the Beatitudes last Sunday, today [Matthew] emphasizes Jesus’ words describing his disciples’ mission in the world. (cf. Mt 5:13-16). He uses the metaphors of salt and light, and his words are directed to the disciples of every age, therefore also to us.
Jesus invites us to be a reflection of his light, by witnessing with good works. He says: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16). These words emphasize that we are recognizable as true disciples of the One who is the Light of the World, not in words, but by our works. Indeed, it is above all our behaviour that — good or bad — leaves a mark on others. Therefore, we have a duty and a responsibility towards the gift received: the light of the faith, which is in us through Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit; and we must not withhold it as if it were our property. Instead we are called to make it shine throughout the world, to offer it to others through good works. How much the world needs the light of the Gospel which transforms, heals and guarantees salvation to those who receive it! We must convey this light through our good works.
The light of our faith, in giving of oneself, does not fade but strengthens. However it can weaken if we do not nourish it with love and with charitable works. In this way the image of light complements that of salt. The Gospel passage, in fact, tells us that, as disciples of Christ, we are also “the salt of the earth” (v. 13). Salt is an ingredient which, while it gives flavour, keeps food from turning and spoiling — in Jesus’ time there were no refrigerators! Thus, Christians’ mission in society is that of giving “flavour” to life with the faith and the love that Christ has given us, and at the same time, keeping away the contaminating seeds of selfishness, envy, slander, and so on. These seeds degrade the fabric of our communities, which should instead shine as places of welcome, solidarity and reconciliation. To fulfil this mission, it is essential that we first free ourselves from the corruptive degeneration of worldly influences contrary to Christ and to the Gospel; and this purification never ends, it must be done continuously; it must be done every day!
Each one of us is called to be light and salt, in the environment of our daily life, persevering in the task of regenerating the human reality in the spirit of the Gospel and in the perspective of the Kingdom of God. May there always be the helpful protection of Mary Most Holy, first disciple of Jesus and model for believers who live their vocation and mission each day in history. May our Mother help us to let ourselves always be purified and enlightened by the Lord, so as to become, in our turn, “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”.
Saint Peter’s Square
5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A, 9 February 2014
Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus says to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). This surprises us a bit when we think of those who were before Jesus when he spoke these words. Who were these disciples? They were fishermen, simple people… But Jesus sees them with God’s eyes, and his assertion can be understood precisely as a result of the Beatitudes. He wishes to say: if you are poor in spirit, if you are meek, if you are pure of heart, if you are merciful… you will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
To better understand these images, we must keep in mind that Jewish Law prescribed that a little bit of salt be sprinkled over every offering presented to God, as a sign of the covenant. Light for Israel was a symbol of messianic revelation, triumph over the darkness of paganism. Christians, the new Israel, receive a mission to carry into the world for all men: through faith and charity they can guide, consecrate, and make humanity fruitful. We who are baptized Christians are missionary disciples and we are called to become a living Gospel in the world: with a holy life we will “flavour” different environments and defend them from decay, as salt does; and we will carry the light of Christ through the witness of genuine charity. But if we Christians lose this flavour and do not live as salt and light, we lose our effectiveness. This mission of giving light to the world is so beautiful! We have this mission, and it is beautiful! It is also beautiful to keep the light we have received from Jesus, protecting it and safeguarding it. The Christian should be a luminous person; one who brings light, who always gives off light! A light that is not his, but a gift from God, a gift from Jesus. We carry this light. If a Christian extinguishes this light, his life has no meaning: he is a Christian by name only, who does not carry light; his life has no meaning. I would like to ask you now, how do you want to live? As a lamp that is burning or one that is not? Burning or not? How would you like to live? [The people respond: Burning!] As burning lamps! It is truly God who gives us this light and we must give it to others. Shining lamps! This is the Christian vocation.
Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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