Sunday, Feb. 5, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 58:7-10, Psalm 112:4-9, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Matthew 5:13-16.

“You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world.”

The two phrases from today’s Gospel are famous because they so perfectly describe the basic role of Christians in the world.

St. John Chrysostom sums up Christ’s message to Christians like this: “You are accountable not only for your own life, but also for that of the entire world.”

Let us focus on salt first. The role of salt was much clearer in ancient times. Salt prevented food from spoiling, preserving it for long periods of time. Salt also brings out the best in food. Likewise, Christians should also bring out the best in the world.

Take the movie Silence, directed by Martin Scorcese, for example. The movie presents examples of Catholics who either keep or renounce their faith, in order to avoid persecution in 17th-century Japan.

The Catholics who keep the faith are witnesses to the power of God in a place that has forgotten him. In the film, the apostates become poor imitations of the Japanese thinkers of the day, no longer having anything powerful to offer.

“If salt loses its taste,” says Jesus, “it is no longer good for anything.”

St. Paul’s second reading today is another example. He says he reached the Corinthians “not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.” With Christ, he had something to add. Without God, he could only give the world what it already had.

Light is an even more urgent metaphor for Christ in the world. Without light, the world is dark and nearly useless.

This is how people too often live today, either lacking the light of Christ to discern right from wrong, or they have only bits and pieces of truth: For example, some may have the “welcome the stranger” morality down, but lack “the right to life” morality, or vice versa.

Comparing Christian morality to a lamp or to a city should make one thing clear: Christianity doesn’t exist to make Christians better than others; it exists to make everyone better. To deny our light — to put it under a bushel basket — is false charity. The light may hurt the eyes of those accustomed to the darkness, but it will be better for them, in the end, to be able to see the Truth.

Today’s first reading explains how this works: “Share your bread with the hungry; shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

Christians know the rest of the story: We will be judged based on how much light we bring.

 

Tom Hoopes

is writer in residence at

Benedictine College in

 Atchison, Kansas.

He is the author of

What Pope Francis Really Said.