Reflection on Matthew 5:13-16, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Year of Ecumenism, by Fr. Randy Flores, SVD
The year 2017 marked the 500 years of the Protestant Reformation. It was in 1517 when Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in Germany. That was a simple act—with an honest intention to point out and correct the abuses of the Church, but it triggered a religious and political tsunami that would soon inundate Europe and beyond for five centuries. Reform came but in the most adverse way: the Church was divided and Europe suffered decades of religious wars. It was not the best of time to say the least for Christians whom Jesus called to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” It was only some decades ago that major steps were taken to heal the wounds of division.
A year before (2016), Pope Francis took the bold step to fly to Sweden to join the start of a year-long commemoration of the quincentenary of the Reformation. In the heartland of Protestant Reformation, Catholic and Lutheran leaders issued a joint statement which concluded with these words: “Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity.”
Back in Rome, when Pope Francis was to thank the organizers of this event, he alluded to the statement when he said: “I urge you to be salt and light, wherever you find yourselves, through the way you live and act as followers of Jesus, and to show great respect and solidarity with our brothers and sisters of other churches and Christian communities, and with all people of good will.”
On another occasion, in a homily on today’s Gospel Reading, the Pope spoke of being salt and light as the giving of oneself for others: “Both salt and light are for others, not for oneself: salt does not give flavor to itself; light does not illuminate itself.”
The Pope was possibly referring here to what Martin Luther said of this verse: “For salt is not salt for itself; it cannot salt itself; but this is the use of it, that one salts meat with it, and other things needed in the kitchen, so that they retain their taste, remain fresh, and do not decay. So, says he, Ye are also salt; not that which belongs to the kitchen, but that with which this flesh, which is the whole world, may be salted.”
These comments come from the sermon of Martin Luther. Every Wednesday, between the years 1530-1532, in the same church where he posted his theses, Luther preached on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). He belabored to present Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as addressed to every Christian and, justified by faith, the Christian is enabled to follow these difficult instructions on how to live a Christian life.
That we can live a life of righteousness based on the Sermon on the Mount is a fruit of being justified by faith alone (sola fide) and not by works—not by one’s own effort and striving but God’s grace alone (sola gratia). When Jesus speaks of the disciples as “light that must shine before others, that they may see your good works,” Luther explained that these “works” are ignited and sustained by faith so that they may bear the fruit of “works of love” which shine.
In short, to be salt and light of the world, Christians are to be rooted in Jesus.