Instead of an organized homily, allow me just to share some scattered thoughts on today’s gospel. Jesus tells his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He uses these richly evocative images of salt and light to reveal the identity and mission of the disciple.
We use salt to preserve food from getting spoiled. The disciple is called to preserve the purity of the world/community. Notice how some people can easily bring out the best in us? In their presence, we dare not say an offensive word or behave rudely. These are the salt of the earth that keep society from moral decadence. We experience this with our parents, teachers, leaders who are credible, or any person of integrity.
We also use salt to give taste and flavor to our food so we can enjoy it. The disciple brings joy to those around him. There is great need for this salt particularly in our time when more and more people no longer know the joy of living. Today, cases of mental health problem are increasing. The high incidence of depression and suicide attempts, especially among the young, is alarming. A recent report prepared by the DILG reveals that 70% of those in prison are with drug-related cases. I’ve seen this myself when I celebrated the Aguinaldo Mass last Christmas in our city jail. There were more than 700 male prisoners who attended the Mass, and I was told that most of them were there for drug offenses.
How sad it is to see that many no longer know how to be happy and enjoy life. There is nothing more that God wants for us than our happiness and the joy of living. When Dominic Savio asked Don Bosco how to become a saint, the good priest told him, “To be holy is to be happy.” Don Bosco’s logic was simple: to be holy is to have God in your heart. One who has God in his heart is the happiest person in the world. Thus, his famous word to the young, “Run, shout, jump; do whatever you want, except sin.”
The other image of a disciple is light. Light dispels darkness and enables us to see. In today’s world darkened by secularism, confusion, fake news, moral relativism… the disciple is called to radiate Christ, “the true light that enlightens every man.” (Jn 1:9) How? One way is by sharing the Word, which is “a lamp for my feet [and] a light for my path.” (Ps119:105)
Today’s first reading suggests another way to be light – by our good works. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break like the dawn.”
In the end, the disciple knows that to be salt and light is simply to be bearers of Jesus, the true Life and Light who came to bring us to the Father. Thus, the gospel ends with a reminder: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
The cost of discipleship is high. Jesus makes no secret about this. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself… “ (Mt 16:24) To be salt and light, the disciple must be ready to lose himself. Salt achieves its purpose of giving taste only when it dissolves and disappears in order to penetrate the food and be lost in it. Likewise, the candle shines as long as it continues to burn until it is completely consumed. Jesus who is the true Light and Life was the first to pass through this process of self-emptying in order to fulfill the Father’s will of saving humankind. The way of discipleship is the way of humility and self-abnegation.
These days, Pope Francis is in Africa on a pilgrimage of peace, particularly in DR Congo and South Sudan. The youngest country in the world, South Sudan has continually suffered from political upheavals and tribal wars since its birth as a new nation in 2011. In April 2019, the two major warring leaders of South Sudan went to the Vatican to seek the Pope’s help in bringing peace to their country. Pope Francis began the meeting by kneeling and kissing the feet of the two leaders and urging them not to return to civil war again.
As Christ’s disciple, the Pope willingly humbled himself to bring the peace of Christ.*