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A Pinch of Salt

February 9, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause
February 9th, 2014
Gospel: Matthew 5: 13-16
Father George Smiga

Jesus throws out this image right at the beginning of today’s gospel. “You are the salt of the earth.” Really, Jesus? What do you mean by that? How are we like salt? Jesus never explains this image. Therefore the door open for us to consider a variety of ways in which we are like salt. Let me suggest one of them to you today.

Salt is good when used in small amounts, at least in food. Have you ever tried to make a stew or a soup and measured poorly, putting in way too much salt? You can’t eat it. You have to throw it out. So salt is to be used sparingly. How often do you read a recipe that asks for, “a pinch of salt”? A pinch is very small. But here is the point. It is still necessary. That is why the recipe calls for it. Without that pinch of salt the food loses its flavor.

So when Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, he might be asking us to adopt the small gesture, the simple word, the gentle touch. When Jesus says that we are salt, he is telling us that sometimes following him involves actions that are not very big at all.

You are in the supermarket, and down the aisle you see a mother with two young children. Her shopping cart is full, and the younger of the two children is in the seat of the cart screaming at the top of his lungs. The older child is on her feet pulling on her mother’s coat and crying because she has just been told that she cannot have one of the sugary drinks that she sees on the shelf. The mother is caught between these two hysterical children trying to calm them down, when the younger one takes a box of cereal from the cart and hurls it down the aisle. You walk over, pick up the cereal box, replace it in the cart. Then in your most positive tone you say to the mother, “Hang in there”. She nods in appreciation, and turns back to her children. They are still crying and she is still frazzled. But your simple word of solidarity has changed the flavor of the situation.

You are sitting with your friends at school eating lunch, and one of them begins to make fun of the girl in homeroom who always dresses poorly and stumbles over her words. As your friend describes the girl, others around the table begin to laugh. Then you say, “Cut it out. Let’s talk about something else”. You probably have not changed your friends’ opinion of this girl, and they will probably mock her out at some future date. But today, your words have given this conversation a different seasoning.

Your friend down the street has just been diagnosed with cancer. So you walk over for a visit. She tells you about the diagnosis and about the upcoming treatment. There is nothing you can do and very little that you can say. So you ask “How about some coffee?” You know where she keeps it and you make a pot. Then you sit down at the kitchen table, in silence, with the coffee steaming between the two of you. Her cancer is still there. The treatments are yet to come. But your quiet presence has given her day a different taste.

Now following Jesus certainly involves more than these small gestures. That is probably why the image of salt in today’s gospel is followed immediately by the image of light. Sometimes we can do big things. Sometimes we can be a city on a mountain, a lamp on a lamp stand, giving light to everything in the house. Sometimes our light can change people’s lives. We can be instrumental in leading an alcoholic to recovery, or an enemy to forgiveness, or a family to reconciliation. When we have an opportunity to accomplish one of these big things, we should by all means in Christ’s name let our light shine.

But these dramatic possibilities do not occur every day. It is for this reason that today’s gospel tells us that when we cannot be the light of the world, it is still valuable to be a pinch of salt.

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