February 9, 2020
5th Sunday – A
Barrow, Alaska is about as far north in Alaska that you can go and still be in Alaska. Despite its remote location, Barrow is a town of several hundred people, and it has a Catholic church and a Catholic radio station. One unfortunate thing about Barrow is the fact that the sun disappears towards the end of November each year, and it does not reappear until the last week of January. This takes a toll on those who live there. In those two months of no sunlight, many people become depressed. At one time there was a city ordinance that the bars would be closed during this time. A school administrator that I know worked in northern Alaska for several years, and he mentioned that several teachers did not return after the first of the year. They could not deal with the lack of daylight. Today’s Gospel tells us that we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We can understand the importance of light, but it may seem strange to talk about salt. In the world at the time of Jesus, salt played an important role. It was used to add flavor to food, but it was also used to preserve certain foods, such as some type of fish. Blocks of salt were used in ovens for baking bread. There was a Latin saying that “nothing is more useful that sun or salt.” The Latin words for “sun” and “salt” (sol and sal) were similar. Roman soldiers were given some salt each month as part of their wages. Thus, we get the word “salary” from the Latin word sal.
We might wonder how to carry out the command of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. One aspect of salt and light is that they differ from the world around them and add something special. Like salt, we as followers of Jesus are called to add flavor to the world in which we live. We are to do things that will improve our society. Throughout Christian history, Christians have done much in the area of health care, such as providing hospitals. Also, Christians have started organizations, such as orphanages, to care for people. Also, Christians have taken a leading role in the area of education and passing on the learning of the past. Today we find Christians providing pregnancy centers, shelters for the homeless, facilities for immigrants, as well as many schools. We can do many things to make our world better.
We are also called to be the light of the world. Both the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel speak of good deeds as a way of bringing light to the world. The last part of the Book of Isaiah seems to refer to those who are returning from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem and Judea. The exiles complain that their country is run down and that it difficult to rebuild and make a new beginning. The Book of Isaiah tells the exiles that if they perform good works that help the poor and others in need, they will experience light in their own lives and provide light for those around them. Jesus tells us that our light must shine before others “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Our good deeds and example should inspire nonbelievers and help lead them to worship the true God. It was said that in the days of the early Church, pagans would notice the example of Christians and say, “See how they love one another.”
Yet there is a danger that we try to fulfill the Lord’s command on our own efforts and forget to turn to God for the help that we need. In the second reading today, St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that when he came to Corinth, he did not come with “sublimity of words or of wisdom.” He did not rely on human cleverness, but on the power of God. Indeed, he worked signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus the faith of the people rested on the power of God and not on human wisdom. We who follow Christ today must rely on the power of God working in our lives. A saint like Mother Theresa of Calcutta did a lot to help the poor, but she had a very strong spiritual life, and this was the key to her success. The Gospels tell us that “with God all things are possible.” If we put our trust in God and rely on God’s help, good things can happen. Recently there was a large crowd taking part in the March for Life in Washington, D. C., and many of the people involved were young people. It is still possible for us to the light of the world.
In our Mass today, we once give thanks that we have called to be disciples and followers of Jesus. Today we give thanks that we are called to the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We pray that with the help of God’s grace, we can set a good example for those around us and do things that will improve our society. We pray that someday we will experience the fullness of light in God’s Kingdom.