We have returned to the season of Ordinary Time. The focal point of this season expressed in the readings chosen from the Gospels will be on the life and teachings of Jesus. Our series of readings for the next few weeks will be a return to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In today’s account, Jesus encourages his disciples to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (cf. Mt 5:13-16).
We too are called to be “salt” and “light”. Salt has two major properties, preservation and flavor. Jesus emphasizes the aspect of salt being seasoning that one puts on food, which enhances its flavor. Light allows those to see in the darkness. How then can we be salt and light?
We begin by remembering that we are an Alleluia people, meaning that we are a people grounded in hope and joy because we who die with Christ will rise with him. Also, our faith is not just for us alone, we are to go out and share it with others, we are to bring Jesus to others. Pope Francis, in the very first line of his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, writes: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, emptiness, and loneliness.”
The Pope is not saying that when we accept Jesus into our lives and develop a relationship with him that all will go our way, there will no longer be conflict or pain and that our life will now be perfect. What he means is that Jesus is the very embodiment of love and the light that leads us away from the darkness of our sin. Jesus is present and accompanies us in our pain and sorrow, and assures us that we are not alone. Jesus is the one who fulfills the longing of our heart’s deepest desire, he reveals to us our meaning and vocation in life. Jesus brings us hope and offers his hand to lead us through our darkest nights of despair and trauma.
We who have experienced the healing balm of of Jesus, have grasped his hand for strength, have leaned on his shoulder to cry on, and experienced the joy of our encounter with him, are to be present to others in the same way. We are to be salt by bringing the joy of Jesus to all those we encounter. Too many who claim to be Christian, walk with a cloud of gloom around them, they have become salt that has lost its flavor. Instead of drawing others to the gospel, they have withdrawn within themselves and push people away.
I am not the most extroverted of people and was more introverted in my youth. In my freshman or sophomore year of college, I heard a talk on cassette given by St Mother Theresa. She mentioned reaching out to others with a smile. I still remember the first time of risking to smile at someone after hearing Mother’s encouraging words. I was walking up the sidewalk toward the parking garage on campus. I do not remember if the person I smiled at returned the smile, yet I do remember that day as a key moment in my faith journey. Having heard of how to share the light of God’s love with another, and then to follow through with the courage to do so, filled me with joy, and it continues to make a difference in my life and hopefully, the lives of others.
How can we be salt and light in our everyday experiences? I would recommend beginning by offering a smile to those that we encounter. This act of kindness need not only be limited to those we feel comfortable with or that we like either. We can share a smile with those we may have had conflicts with and even those for whom we may feel a bias or prejudice toward. This is only a small beginning, but it draws us out from our own self-centered focus and directs our attention toward willing the good of another.
A simple, yet genuine smile can work wonders for someone who begins to believe that no one cares about them or is willing to give them the time of day. This is true for the recipient as well as the giver. If you have felt like you have lost some of your flavor, if you feel a bit down, if you are not sure of how to be a light for others, then the next time you catch the eye of another, please smile.
In this small act, we say to the person on the receiving end of our smile that we care enough to notice them, that they are loved just for being present in that moment. They have worth and dignity just for who they are. A simple, sincere smile can bring a little flavor to someone in a sour mood, as well as a little light to someone in a very dark place. These days we can certainly use a few more smiles. Even behind a mask, the eyes still smile.