On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Deacon Pat Hessel preached the following homily to students at St. Peter the Apostle High School in Spruce Grove:
Have you ever felt irrelevant – insignificant – like you really didn’t matter? Maybe you’re not a star athlete or a top student. Maybe your parents or your friends don’t always have enough time for you. You might think that you’re not the kind of person who can make a difference.
In Jesus’ time there were lots of people who felt that way. More that half the population was slaves. They were considered to be owned by someone else – someone else’s property. In fact, some people actually sold themselves into slavery because it seemed easier than trying to scratch out a living on the land. These are the sorts of people Jesus was talking to in today’s Gospel. Few people were wealthy and powerful in those days, and most people came in a distant second. But Jesus was telling them that they were the salt of the earth – the light of the world. How does that make any sense?
Well, just before the reading we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had told them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These people knew a lot about being meek, about mourning, being poor, being persecuted – but no one ever told them those were good things.
Can you understand why the people were captivated by his teaching? Imagine you felt like you really didn’t matter and some influential person came to you and told you that you didn’t have to be rich or famous or powerful to be important – that you were already important – you were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
But this wasn’t just some cheesy pep talk. Jesus is God – the creator of the world. And he was telling these people how the world really works. The powerful and the wealthy and the arrogant couldn’t identify with his message. It made no sense to them because they thought they had the world figured out. Jesus was telling these people that in their meekness and poverty – in their supposed “insignificance” – they had the power to bring healing and illumination to the world. Understand that in those days salt was used, among other things, to preserve meat, and to disinfect wounds. It was essential to their way of life. And, of course, light was and is a requirement for life. And in the days before electricity and light bulbs, they would have been even more aware than we are of the importance of light.
So, when Jesus called them salt of the earth and light of the world, it was a big deal. But what does it mean for us? If salt and light are so important, does that mean we need to do really important things if we are to respond to Jesus? Remember the words of Mother Teresa: “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
There’s a guy at Holy Trinity who goes every Wednesday and sits near the abortion clinic in Edmonton. He doesn’t carry a poster. He doesn’t march up and down the street. He sits quietly and prays for the babies and for their parents. There’s a young lady who came with us on our mission trip to Jamaica this year. Before she left, she asked her friends for donations of school supplies. She brought those supplies with her for the children down there. I think all of you have seen news stories about young people who see the problems and hurt in the world and do what they can to help, like starting a “Go Fund Me” page or organizing a fun run. Some kids take the time to visit or call their grandparents. I know that here at SPA a number of charitable works have been organized and carried out by the students. Small things done with great love. None of these things is earth-shattering, but each is relevant and significant.
When Jesus said that these people were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it wasn’t like he waved a magic wand and suddenly everyone became someone different. He said that they already were salt and light. But he said that salt can go bad. We can cover our light with a bushel basket. That’s our choice.
But his clear message to you is that you should never avoid doing the right thing because you think you don’t matter – that you’re insignificant or the good things you do are irrelevant. Jesus said it very clearly: “You matter!”