5th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 58: 7-10; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; Mat 5:13-16
“The Salt and Light” – Do we Fear Death or Suffering Helplessly?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 5th February 2017

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” images were used by Jesus to remind His disciples that if they do not serve the Father’s Will, as He does, then they would have lost their sense of mission and purpose in life.  And, they would be like “salt” that has lost its saltiness; it is good for nothing except being thrown away to be trampled upon.  Jesus then emphasised His point further by saying that no one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; light must shine through your good works for everyone to see, so that your Father in heaven is praised.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the very basic question that you and I need to ask ourselves personally is, “How can I be Jesus’ “salt and light” and thus, be His true disciple in today’s world?”  This basic question is very important for us to answer, personally and honestly because God has created you and I and has put us in this world for a clear purpose and mission.  We are not meant to live aimlessly and meaninglessly in our daily living.

The first basic fact about salt is that is can hardly lose its taste.  Likewise, as God loves us so deeply and unconditionally, as His children, through the gift of the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we can also hardly lose our faith in God.  However, salt can be so mixed with other elements and become so impure that it has lost its saltiness.  Likewise, if we reflect on our lives and the Christians we know, we too can be influenced and mixed with other elements in the world so much so that we can become so “impure” that we have lost our sense of the true meaning and mission of our lives as Christians, and think and live like those who do not know Jesus and do not have the gift of faith  

One of such secular influences on our faith is as follows.  Over the past twenty four years as an ordained priest, I have officiated many Baptisms, Marriages and Funeral Masses.  What is clear is this.  One by one, over the years, many of the people I have known have died; including my family and loved ones; regardless of how close they are to me, and how much I love them as with my parents, my fellow Jesuit brothers, my dear friends; one by one they have gone to God.

As for the rest of us remaining, we are daily ageing very certainly and inevitably . . . and this will happen to every human person, regardless of who we are, how much wealth and power we may have; all of us without exception will have to face the reality of our death.  Even if our doctors say that we are super fit and healthy, it does not change the reality that we can die any time.  The main point I am reflecting on is that we are finite human beings who are given the gift of life in this world for a short time.  So, let us not “fool ourselves into fantasising that death is far away, and that even as it has happened to other people, it would not happen to us so soon, and live in the make believe that if we are 20 years of age, we have another 70 years ahead of us, and if we are 60 years we have another 30 years and the like.  The reality of our finiteness reveals truth that we cannot all live up to 90 years of age and longer.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the sooner we face the reality that death is inevitable, and that it will happen . . . and for some of us it may happen unexpectedly and sooner than we think . . . the wiser we will become.  In saying all of these, believe me, I am still preaching the Good News and not “bad news.”  I am preaching the “Good News” because it is the Truth that Jesus proclaimed.  Jesus wants you and I to live our lives to the full by being the true “salt of the earth and light of the world” instead of being overly concerned with our health and our wealth, our earthly comforts and pleasures, and in doing so, forget that the true purpose of the gift of life is to deepen our faith in Jesus and love God our Father through obeying His Will as fully as we can.

In other words, the Good News of Jesus for us is that He wants to remind and challenge us not lose our “saltiness” and “light” that God has given us at Baptism.  Jesus wants us not to be too caught up with living our lives in this world and forgetting the main purpose of why God has put us in this world.  We are finite human beings with a finality.  In other words, we are children of God, who has heaven as our final destination, and death as the reality we have to face instead of trying to ignore and run away from. 

One way to overcome the fear of death is to be God’s salt and light as fully as we can, in the way we live daily.  It is only when our lives are lived fully for Christ that we are able to accept our death with peace and tranquillity.  This is because at our death bed, with the firmness and depth of our faith in Jesus, we will have deep peace and consolation that we are indeed returning to our true home in heaven. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as our finiteness and death point us to our finality to be with God for all eternity in heaven, our earthly journey is lived with a fallibility of our weakness or sinfulness that points us to our need for fidelity.  Some months ago, after Mass I greeted a mother (Judy; not her real name) who brought her three kids to Mass.  And when I expressed how beautiful her kids were, Judy whispered into my ears, “Father, can I talk to you . . . my husband has just left me and I am devastated . . . and I do not know what to do next . . .” 

This situation of Judy is a different reality from that of being called to be the “salt and light” of the world.  In Judy’s situation, she wants to be the “salt and light” to her husband Jack, (not his real name).  However, Jack refuses to be “salted” so to speak.  In the case of Judy, to be the “salt” of Jack, is for her to draw out the goodness and the faith that is in her husband.  One of the quality of salt is not so much as to add taste to the food, but draw out the natural taste that is already present in the food to which salt is added.  For one reason or another, Jack is lost, confused and living in the darkness of the world, even as he is at heart a good man who loves his children.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as Jesus is calling you and I to be His “salt of the earth and light of the world,” let us be mindful of our need for the humility to accept the reality of our finiteness as a human being, and not think, and worse still live in the pride that God is unimportant in our lives. 

God gave you and I the gift of life and more importantly the gift of faith that offers us the gift of Eternal life.  In other words, our human finiteness points us to the reality of death.   And if we are truly able to live our lives fully and wholeheartedly in the ways of Jesus, as His “salt” and “light”, then we will be able to face our death with peace and tranquillity, and embrace the Eternal life that awaits us, instead of living in the fear of death or by trying to block out the truth and reality that we can die any time. 

And so, like Judy, and for those of us who are experiencing painful relationships and family challenges, to be the “salt of the earth and light of the world,” we need to face the reality that we are all fallible human beings and can even behave and live as irresponsibly as Jack.  In such a painful, helpless and desperate situation like Judy, all the more, we need to build our lives on the solid foundation of our faith in Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour.

This is because in such complex darkness that is overwhelming and threatening to destroy our lives and our families, there is only One Light who can give us true Hope; no one else and nothing in this world can give us the needed strength and direct us in the darkness of our humanly helpless situation.  Only Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour can. 

Let us then always turn to Jesus and love Him at all times.  Let us seek our Heavenly Father’s Will by taking our mission and purpose in life to be His salt of the earth and light of the world more seriously and more wholeheartedly. 

Otherwise, Jesus would say to us that, if we lose our “saltiness and light” then we would have lost the meaning and purpose of our lives; and such lives are not worth living . . . they do not bring peace to our lives and to our world . . . . because Our Father in heaven is not praised, loved and served which indeed is what Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to become as “salt of the earth” and being the “light of the world”.


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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