Don’t just walk in the light – be the light.
My Da would put salt on all his food, soup, potatoes, chicken, meat, fish, eggs, fries, didn’t matter, even before he tasted it, he would douse it with salt. At night he would do the rounds to make sure all the lights were off, and all plugs were disconnected from the outlet. As I’m typing this I can hear his voice shouting up the stairs: “did you take that plug out?”
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group of priests. It was a wonderful trip, and it is definitely very special to be at the places where so much of the Bible took place, to enter the Temple area, the wonderful churches. It is especially overwhelming to see and walk in the places where Jesus was born, lived, worked, preached, to see the places where miracles were worked, to pray at His tomb and the site of His death. On the long flight home, my friend, Fr. Mathew Mauriello, asked me what I was going to preach about the following Sunday; the flight was Friday afternoon. I hadn’t even looked at the readings for the following Sunday and I almost never prepared a homily (as you can tell). Matt, the good priest that he is, had his homily all ready.
During the conversation he mentioned to me that Jesus always seemed to direct His message to His audience and especially in the images He used. For example, when He was speaking to the priests, He would talk about the Temple and how it was decorated, or how the worship was celebrated. When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees or Scribes, both groups being scholars of The Law, He would talk about The Law and its interpretation and requirements and He would challenge them by the way He interpreted it. When He was speaking by the sea, possibly to fishermen, He would speak about “putting out into the deep,” “casting your net,” He asked about the catch. He used images for shepherds (sheepfold, lost sheep, wolves), farmers (crops, casting seed, good ground, the weather). Each group had its own images and special messages.
So, who was Jesus speaking to when He talked about water, light, and salt? It’s true that all groups in the society of His time used all these essentials, but, in particular, these daily items were the concern of women. Women, for the most part, light the lamps in the home, took care of the fire, used salt for cooking but also for preserving food, and cleaning wounds, it was women who went to collect the water. Think of the woman at the well and the fact that she was alone because the other women came earlier in the day when it wasn’t so hot.
What difference does water, light and salt make? Without water there can be no life. Not only is it necessary to sustain all living things it is also used for purification, and for us Christians, it is the symbol of receiving God’s overflowing grace that actually saves us. Water has a material and spiritual purpose, and associated with all life. Salt was not only used for giving flavor to food, or bringing out the flavor of food, in a time before refrigeration salt was used to preserve food. It was also used for medical purposes and helped clean wounds and infections. It was medicinal and life preserving. And light, well, light helps us find our way in the dark and make our way out of the dark. The smallest glimmer of light can give us direction and guide our journey. The great light in the sky, the sun, gives warmth and produces light so that we can have life. In the cold light of night, the stars, small, tiny, helped travelers navigate for centuries. It was such a light that led the Wisemen to Jesus.
As I said earlier, Jesus often directs His images to those He is directing or teaching. Maybe, just maybe, when he speaks of water, light, and salt, He might be directing this message in particular to the women in His audience. The greatest gifts and missions are given in these images: giving, feeding, and sustaining life, healing and protecting, showing the way to others and giving a direction that is worth following. No doubt Jesus intends this for all His disciples, but maybe it is the particular mission of some.