Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
The Geography of Salt and Light

Readings: 1 Kings 17:7-16; Psalms 4:2-3, 4-5, 7b-8; Matthew 5:13-16
Picture: CC tina|raval

There is little change in the weather report for the readings today as compared to the situation yesterday. If anything, the drought has worsened and the famine is more sharply felt. Even the wadi in which Elijah had previously taken refuge has dried up. There is, however, a subtle change in geography. At the onset of the hunger in the city and famine on the plain, God’s response was to send spiritual nourishment from locations of contrast – the country and the hill. But today we see Elijah moving back into a place of human habitation, specifically a Sidonian town. And even though Jesus continues to speak from the Mount of the Beatitudes, his words imply a necessary change of setting. Let us begin by considering this implied shift.

You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. These words indicate a necessary movement, an important displacement from a distant location of contrast, to a place of close engagement. Jesus’ own words make this clear: No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand… Something similar can also be said of salt. Even if it retains its taste, salt cannot do its work if it remains only in the saltshaker. For it to take effect salt needs to be sprinkled onto – even dissolved into – the food. Which implies that although God’s Wisdom might ring out first from a distant place, a location of contrast, it needs to somehow make its way to where it is needed most – from the country to the city, from the mountain to the plain. Are we not reminded once again of the great mystery expressed with such elegant eloquence in John’s gospel: and the Word became flesh?

And what this necessary change of location looks like is strikingly illustrated in the first reading. As we noted earlier, here we find Elijah moving from the wadi into the town. And it is significant too that the town is a Sidonian one, just as the person chosen to help him is an impoverished widow.

At this point we find ourselves invited to deepen our consideration of the mechanics of how salt and light do their work. For salt is valued not merely for its own taste. One doesn’t usually eat it on its own. Rather, salt is at its best when it is skillfully used, in the right amounts, to enhance the natural flavors of food. Similarly, light is valued not just in itself. It is highly hazardous, for example, to stare into the sun with the naked eye. Instead, light is valued for its ability to illumine and to accentuate the inherent beauty of the world around us. How this translates into practice is again well illustrated by Elijah’s example. He, the prophet of God, comes to the Sidonian widow woman as salt and light. And yet, we cannot fail to notice how he blesses the woman by asking for her help. He invites her not only to share her meager supply of food and water, but also her skills in the kitchen. First make a little scone of it for me…

The challenge for us is to grasp the implications of these considerations for our proper identity and role as Christians in the world today. When the city and the plain are stricken by famine and drought, it is indeed tempting – for me too – to withdraw to a safe distance from which to hurl scathing critiques and harsh judgments, or to build high fences and solid walls to safeguard ourselves from dangers perceived and real, or even to overwhelm others with our own brand of saltiness and brilliance. But these do not seem to be the best ways in which salt and light do their work. Our call is to engagement rather than escape, to collaboration rather than control. The challenge is to enhance flavor without becoming tasteless, to illumine without getting lost. Striking this balance implies the need to remain in constant touch with the One who alone is our Source and our Goal. Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord…

How are we being invited to continue meeting this challenge today?


  1. Where and when does one strikes the right balance? As the serenity prayer goes, "Lord, grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept things that I can't and the wisdom to know the difference."

    For example, Elijah asked a poor widow to make a scone for him even though she has just enough to feed herself and her son for perhaps a day or two. In normal circumstances, wouldn't it be foolhardy or suicidal for her to do this?

    If one normally charges a fee for a professional service, what is one supposed to do when a church acquaintance demands (without asking) free professional service and even gives very specific and detailed instructions?

    If one has already made tremendous effort trying in vain to "engage" and to "collaborate" with certain people, does it make sense to continue trying?

  2. Fr Chris, your new layout seems a little too wide - a horizontal bar is appearing on my screen nowadays. To suit different screens, it's better to set the wrappers by percentage instead of by absolute pixels, e.g.:

    #outer-wrapper {
    width: 100%;
    #main-wrapper {
    width: 60%;
    #sidebar-wrapper {
    width: 34%;


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