Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sunday word, 09 Feb 2014

A Taste of Jesus
Fifth Sunday of the Year A (16 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus was a Jew. He was steeped in the traditions of Israel. They shaped him and the ways he thought and taught. His Jewish awareness shaped his use of salt in his famous metaphor for us and his disciples in every age. Ancient peoples used salt in many ways. An overlooked way Jews used it may help us appreciate better our vocation as his disciples today.

For us salt is easily available; we have only to sprinkle it. Ancient peoples had to find salt; that meant looking for deposits of it near salt seas or where salt seas had been. It was precious: salt was essential to life; salt paved roads; Roman soldiers received money to buy it—their salary. Our word salary comes from their word for salt.

The care to find it and to prepare it for use lent salt symbolic power. Precious salt sealed and symbolized relationships. Eating together was an act of friendship not mere nourishment. During the sabbath meal people dipped bread into salt to show they agreed to live the relation-ship of God with them. The divine-human relationship was the covenant: as it is written, “[Recall] the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel for ever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt.”1 When Jesus calls us salt of the earth, Jesus invites us to join him and not only preserve and live the covenant but to witness it in the sight of others.

In practical matters Mediterranean people knew salt more than preserved and flavored food. Salt affects actions from baking to burning. We add salt in yeast-bread dough to aid the growth of yeast. Ancient Palestinians used salt to fire their ovens. Wood was scarce; so they made fuel from animal dung. To make it burn, they added salt.2 If salt was old or polluted—no longer salty—it was useless to make their fuel burn. Its last use gave feet traction on slippery paths.

The burning property of salt may have been one reason why it was part of the recipe for incense3 and included in grain offerings used to worship the God of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants: every cereal offering that you present to the Lord shall be seasoned with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering. On every offering you shall offer salt.4

Salt’s refining property played in their minds: renewing and strengthening relationships; making the covenant with God enduring, honoring it day and night, in season and out; and making them people of the covenant. Living the covenant made them light…break-[ing] forth like the dawn. The image encourages: by the twilight before sunrise we distinguish objects, animals and people from each other. Not bright as day but light enough. Living the covenant is often modest. So prophet Isaiah reminded people could live the covenant for the sake of the world and affect it by modest efforts: 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.

Jesus personified the covenant. As Jesus’ disciples today we live the covenant by living his gospel. When we live his gospel, our lives proclaim it. When we live his gospel, we give others a taste of Jesus. When we live his gospel, we brighten the world. When we live his gospel, we invite others to shine with their light. When we live his gospel, we change the world and set it ablaze with Jesus’ presence by our presence.

Our deeds and choices shaped by Jesus’ gospel shine Jesus on our world. Our deeds and choices shaped by Jesus’ gospel keep us true to the covenant with all people God has completed in Jesus. In his everlasting covenant Jesus has given us, his disciples today, a vital part to play: we are the live wire5 along which flows his reconciling power. People and societies we touch find healing where and when we—and all Christians—live our vocations as missionaries of Jesus’ gospel.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause and let yourself sink into the life of the Trinity.
  • Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for giving himself to you and inviting you to live his gospel as his disciple today.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to devote yourself to living his gospel with deeper conviction as you move through your day.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Praying Jesus’ words sincerely guides us to worship him in spirit and truth with our hearts as well as our deeds. By worshiping Jesus in spirit and truth we set the world ablaze with the faith of Jesus alive in us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

2 Chronicles 13.5.
See John Pilch’s brief description of both dung-fuel and earth-ovens in ancient Israel.
Exodus 30.35
Leviticus 2.13.
The metaphor of “live wire” I owe to Evleyn Underhill. She used it in describing charity: “Adoration, as it more deeply possesses us, inevitably leads on to self-offering. Charity is the live wire along which the power of God, indwelling our finite spirits, can and does act on our souls and other things, rescuing, healing, giving support and light.” In her “The Hill of the Lord,” The Spectator, 19 November 1927. It is in the Dana Greene Collection of research in the Underhill archives.


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