JUNE 12, 2012 ; SAINT ALEYTH : MATTHEW 5:13-16

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH, says the lord Jesus to his disciples, and, through his Church in this liturgy he addresses these same challenging words to each of us here today. This image that our Lord uses is a homely one, familiar to each whether simple or sophisticated.  Like a number of our Lordís familiar words this saying also takes on fresh meanings when readers and hearers reflect on them. For one thing, words take on different associations in the course of history and the realities they refer to often enough are understood in fresh ways. One reason for such development is that the realities they conjure up take on fresh significance as new insights emerge with experience and reflection. Further we ourselves can also discover implications not expressed explicitly in his sayings as we ourselves gain more experience of life and of the Spirit. We grow not only in knowledge with the years, but also in our capacity to discern what is hidden beneath the surface of life. Such heightened capacity for perception, of course, depends on our making the effort needed to improve our understanding of the world and of the action of God in his creatures and creation.

Evagrius Ponticus already in the three hundreds had insisted that attaining to the purity of heart is best achieved by cultivating the ability to discern the reflection of Godís attributes in the things he created and still governs. Evagrius correctly understood that mere knowledge is not sufficient to assure such growth as contributes to true wisdom. For the wise person is one who possesses not only understanding, but rather a wholesome taste and appreciation for the true realities of life at various levels. In point of fact, one of the several reasons why meditation and study of Scripture are integral features of the spiritual life is that it is the nature of words to suggest more than their obvious and immediate meaning clearly states.

Let us apply this insight to our present text by way of illustrating the truth of this principle. Just what did our Lord mean when he told his disciples that they are the salt of the earth? This is the first and obvious question to ask as we reflect on the statement he made ďYou are the salt of the earthĒ. Seemingly he intended to convey that, having been formed by his teaching and example, they possess a wit and wisdom and a style that adds appeal to their words and gives a certain zest to life. His words have imparted to them a kind of experiential knowledge that makes contact with them a source of heightened significance. Our Lordís disciples are so to deal with others as to give fresh meaning to their days and their relations with others. Their manner of treating others has been given a power to transform what had seemed ordinary and rather commonplace into a vital interest. Those who are formed by our Lordís words are enabled to take on something of his personal attitudes and manner. His person acts like salt, giving a wholesome flavor to life for those his followers encounter in life and those whom they instruct. What was flavorless or insipid takes on a fresh interest, assumes a tasteful flavor. That is what had happened to them after they began to associate with Jesus day by day, and to assimilate his teaching. In other words what our Lord is telling us in this liturgy by calling us the salt of the earth is that we have received a heightened power of insight resulting from contact with the source of true wisdom and the author of life. Implicit in this declaration is the resulting duty to pass on to others what we have been so freely given. Godís revelation in and through the person of His son is a transforming and active power. Like salt that preserves fish from spoiling, once it penetrates it preserves us from the decay of sin. At the same time his living presence that makes itself felt in the depths of our heart when it is received with trusting faith and assimilated with attentive care imparts added meaning to life, causing what was tasteless to take on an exciting flavor.

This new taste for what is enduring and even eternal paradoxically alters what was bitter to something sweet when, by daily meditation, we exercise our faith. For by meditative prayer and reading we develop a stronger, healthier palate, a taste for what is truly wholesome. We come to find sweetness where once the same events seemed bitter. Like salt such familiarity with the living word of God, changes the tasteless things of this life into the sweetness of divine goodness. Just so it happens in this sacrament. The unleavened bread is transformed at this mass into that risen body of Christ, the source of all delight for those who are nourished by that love of his heart which he shares with us at this altar. W

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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