2011-02-06, 5th A, Of Salt, Sand and Light, Shhhhh.

Homily 02-06-11
5th Sunday A Ordinary Time,
Is 58:7-10; Ps 112:4-9; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

This past week we had first hand experience with salt trampled underfoot. But that salt wasn’t useless. It had the important purpose of melting the ice, so that we could get around without getting hurt. Now, I don’t think that’s quite what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about “salt trampled underfoot.”

If we were to make a more direct analogy, suppose instead of spreading salt on the ice, we were to spread white sand. What we would find, is that the sand would not melt the ice, instead, it would just sit there. And when we walked on that sand, we might slip on it, even worse than on the ice itself. You see, the sand would be useless for helping us walk on ice.

OK, now let’s move a little closer to the point Jesus was making. Suppose we were evangelists and we hung out on the street corners telling everyone to “come to Jesus.” Or suppose we went even further and knocked on doors to hand out little pamphlets, telling how great our church is compared to all those others. And on top of that, we had the most awesome gift, as St. Paul would say, of speaking with elegant and persuasive wisdom. Now, as commendable as both of those actions might sound, we would still be missing the point that Jesus was making about the salt and the light. We would be, like the sand, tasteless, and maybe even a little sour, but surely not melting any ice.

If instead, we were to stand on the street corners and give out crackers and juice to the homeless poor; if we were to knock on doors to pick up the elderly and bring them to Mass; if we were to shovel our neighbor’s walk, without even being asked; if we were to give, just a couple hours of our precious time, to help teach or support our youth or adult catechumens; then, we would truly BE the salt that Jesus is talking about.

The prophet Isaiah said that when our love for one another is manifest by our actions, beyond words, then those actions will not only bring the light of God’s glory to those we help, but God’s light and glory will also serve as our own protector and healer. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” The salt is the healing, and preserving, and life enhancing actions that we bring to the people around us. And the light is the hope that Jesus gives for a better world, through our actions and through our love.

Yesterday, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from a Presbyterian pastor and friend of mine, whom I hadn’t heard from in months. It was one of those forwarded stories that I glanced through and then deleted. But later I realized, that this was not just another piece of junk mail. This really was – “a gift from the Holy Spirit” – because it fit in perfectly with today’s theme of salt and light, and actions over words. And we might even say, it’s ecumenical!

“There once was a faithful member of a local church, who had always attended the services, but suddenly stopped coming. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. When he arrived at the man’s home, the pastor found him sitting there, all alone, before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man led him to a chair near the fireplace, and waited.

The pastor made himself comfortable, but said nothing. In the grave silence that followed, the two of them contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs, for what seemed to be, an eternity. Then the pastor took the fire tongs and carefully picked up ONE, brightly burning ember. He placed it to the side of the hearth, all by itself, and then sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all of this, in quiet discernment.

As the one, lone, ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow, and then its fire was gone. Soon it was cold and dead. Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting.

The pastor glanced at his watch and realized that it was time to leave. So he slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately, the little ember began to glow again when it was combined with the light and the warmth of all the other burning coals around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host broke the silence and murmured, with a tear in his eye, ‘I will be back at church next Sunday. Thank you so much for your visit, Pastor, and especially – for the fiery sermon.’”

jmp 02-06-11

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