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Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from the Gospel of Matthew 5:13-16.

The Sermon on the MountFra Angelico, c. 1440

The Similes of Salt and Light – Matthew 5:13-16

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

In the above passage Jesus tells his disciples that by their deeds they are to influence the world for good. He tells them that if they fail in good works, they are as useless as flavourless salt or that they can no more escape notice than a city set on a mountain or as a lamp whose light is concealed.

The Simile of Salt

  • “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

Also, in Mark we have a Simile of Salt.

  • “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49)

Some manuscripts add “every sacrifice will be salted with salt” to the above verse.

  • “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” (Mark 9:49) King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)

The purifying and preservative use of salt in food,

  • You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your grain offering. On every offering you shall offer salt. (Leviticus 2:13)

and the refinement effected through fire refer here to comparable effects in the spiritual life of the disciples of Jesus.

  • “Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50)

In Luke too we have the Simile of Salt.

  • “Salt is good, but if salt itself loses its taste, with what can its flavor be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” (Luke 14:34–35)

The simile of salt follows the sayings of Jesus that demanded of the disciple total dedication and detachment from family and possessions and illustrates the condition of one who does not display this total commitment. The halfhearted disciple is like salt that cannot serve its intended purpose.

When we say salt, we commonly refer to common salt, and its chemical name is sodium chloride (NaCl).

Common salt is used for many purposes – to add flavor to food; to draw out the water in foods; to cure food and keep it safe for a longer period; to create traction on icy roads etc.

Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is a very stable substance. The chemical bond between sodium and chlorine is very tight. From a chemical perspective, the only way for salt to lose its saltiness is for a chemical reaction to occur.

The unusual supposition by Jesus, of salt losing its flavor, has led some to suppose that the saying refers to the salt of the Dead Sea, that because being chemically impure, could lose its taste.

The Simile of Light

  • “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

See also the following:

  • Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
  • He said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. (Mark 4:21-22)
  • “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that t7ose who enter may see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:16-18)
  • “No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye.r When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.” (Luke 11:33-36)
  • “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (John 3:21)

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