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February 5, 1993     The Message
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February 5, 1993

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........................ '. i The Message for 00tho!ics at Sohthwe00=m: lnd00a"00 Commentaw , ByFATHER Chrnstnan life: Salt, L DONALDDILGER light, a city on a hill Commentary for Sunday, Feb. 7, y in Ordinary Time, Cycle A: 5:13-16. Fhe larger context of this gospel reading is on the Mount according to Matthew. s just completed Matthew's version of or principles of action or conduct life. If these principles are put into individual Christians, their lives be- of the earth, the light of the world, a hill and thus visible to all. expresses this idea in three little para- )arisons from the sayings of Jesus _ . Ihew has assembled and placed in this cOatext im - . ,. mediately following the beahtudes. ,lmilar sayings attributed to Jesus occur in of Luke, one about salt, the other also has a saying of Jesus about ue to the differences we see in these sav- three gospels, we conclude that Jesus said similar to these but over a period of years they evolved into different various Christian communities from our three gospels originate. Finally they it ilto the gospels in the form then cur- a particular community, or they may even changed by a gospel author to adapt the context into which he placed them. , While Matthew nlaces these savings of Jesus to h' r  ..... is Sermon on the Mount Mark laces his irsion of the salt statement in the coPtext of giv- ;SCdal in the Christian communit Chris- "_s wh ' Y" o gwe scandal are the salt that has lost its ability to season. Luke's salt saying occurs as the final warning for Luke's Christians to re- nounce everything to follow Jesus. Those who refuse such renunciation of the world are salt without saltiness, "fit neither for the land nor for the manure pile," as Luke puts it rather strongly. His statement about light seems ta have no rela- tionship to what precedes or follows. Luke has the disconcerting habit of putting surplus mate- rial he collected for his book into places where it does not seem to fit, though it may have fitted into his way of looking at it. After all, he states at the beginning of his book that unlike his pre- decessors he intends to write a systematic ac- count. We return now to Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. To understand what Jesus or Matthew may have meant by comparing followers of Jesus to salt, let's see what the symbolism of salt is otherwise in Scripture. Salt was sprinkled on sacrifices to the Lord. It was considered to have medicinal qualities. Elisha used salt to purify a spring in Jericho "so that neither death nor mis- carriage" would come from that spring. A new- born child was rubbed with salt. It was used as an ingredient of sacred incense. An exchange of salt was used to seal treaties or agreements, sometimes called "covenants of salt." Once a person ate the salt of another, an unbreakable bond was established between them. With this background we can say that the salt was used to bring life, healing, and whole- ness, so the life of Christians who live the beati- tudes bring life, healing, and wholeness to them- selves and others. Christians who do not live the beatitudes become as useless as salt that has lost its saltiness, good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled. The Greek expression used in this statement speaks of salt becoming insipid or foolish. The implication is that Christians who do not live the beatitudes become fools and are left out of the kingdom. Like the foolish maidens of Matthew's judgment parables later in the gospel, they are left outside, the door is closed, and they are lost in the darkness.. The saying about a city on a hill also has Old Testament background. Isaiah 2:2-5 de- scribes Jerusalem as a city set on a hill to which all nations will come in pilgrimage. He envi- sions universal peace going out from such a city. Thus Christians bring peace to those whose lives they touch. In the third comparison Christian life is the light of the world. Matthew had earlier portrayed Jesus as a light to the nations, 4:15-16. Followers of Jesus have that same quality. They enlighten and attract everyone who sees them. A good Christian life, like the lamp set high and casting light all around itself, "gives light to all in the house." This means that it brightens not only the Church but all who see it. In turn they are led to God and "give glory to your Father who is in heaven." This is Matthew's way of sav- ing that no matter how bright and how far the in- fluence of Christian life, the ultimate source of it is God, to whom belongs the credit. 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