Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Deacons)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, all of us heard of the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow of Zarephath in our first reading today, and followed by the parable of the Lord, the famous parable of the salt of the earth and the light of the world in our Gospel passage today. Through all these, all of us as Christians are reminded to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ in all of our words, actions and deeds.
In our first reading today taken from the First Book of Kings, we heard of the story of how the prophet Elijah went to the region of Sidon, during the time of the three years of great drought and famine, in which the whole land of Israel and the surrounding regions were deprived of any rain, with the whole land in drought and lacking water, and hence, are in great suffering for the lack of food. But the people remained stubborn in sin, especially the king Ahab, which caused the prophet Elijah to have to flee to the neighbouring territories.
It was in this occasion that the prophet Elijah encountered a widow in the town of Zarephath, who was also having difficulty herself, as she was bereft of hope and despairing, hoping that she could just have one last meal for herself and her son before they died out of food and income from the famine and drought. But the prophet Elijah told the widow to have faith in God, and to provide for him with food as he had requested, for the Lord would definitely take good care of her and provide for her for her faith.
The widow trusted Elijah and did as the prophet asked of her. Miraculously, the flour she used to make the bread for the prophet Elijah did not run out, as with the oil she used to make the bread. God provided for both His prophet Elijah, as well as for the widow of Zarephath and her son, whom at that time belonged to the non-Israelites living outside the bounds of the land of Israel. She was a pagan, and yet, she chose to believe in God and open her heart and mind to the Lord’s words and truth.
Through the love and the compassion, the kindness that the prophet Elijah showed to the widow, he himself had been blessed by God. And in later occasion, still during the drought as Elijah stayed for some time with the widow, the son of the widow fell seriously ill and died. The widow was very distraught at the loss of her son, but the prophet Elijah reassured her and entrusted the dead son to the Lord’s mercy and love. And through his prayers, the Lord resurrected the son of the widow and returned him to life.
Certainly, through all these, the widow must have become a firm believer in God, in contrast to the lack of faith among the Israelites and their king, Ahab. And in this way, the prophet Elijah had indeed showed us what it means for us to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. Why is that so? That is because in the depth of her despair and darkness, the prophet Elijah had shown the path to liberation and salvation, to a new hope in God, even though he himself had been in difficulty himself.
In our Gospel today, we heard these two parables the Lord mentioned, on the salt of the earth and the light of the world, two very important commodities especially at that time. Salt was a very important preservative that helped to keep a lot of food produce from spoilage and was also important in its use in giving flavour to the food, while light was crucial in a society before the advent of cheap and easily obtainable light sources using electricity, in a world where darkness was often feared, and how light was so essential for many people’s livelihood.
Therefore, the Lord is calling on each and every one of us to be the bearer of this new hope and strength, courage and perseverance to one another during times of great difficulties and challenges. This is especially relevant this year, considering the numerous troubles, trials, dangers and problems we have encountered in the first few months of this year alone. How have we as Christians acted in the midst of all these challenges? Have we borne hope and light into our communities, and helped one another to shore up hope amidst despair and strength amidst weakness? Or have we instead been preoccupied with fear ourselves, and failed to put our trust in God, and ended up causing even more darkness, negativities and evil?
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Ephrem the Deacon, a holy man of God, whose life can be additional inspiration for us on how we ought to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. St. Ephrem the Deacon lived during the early years of the acceptance of Christianity as the widespread religion and faith of the Roman Empire, and he was remembered for the immense collections of his many writings, poems and works, many of which inspired countless people to follow the Lord with greater zeal and faith.
St. Ephrem might not have had wonderful and mighty deeds filled with miracles and glory, and yet, in his tireless efforts and works in writing, in composing and creating inspiration and faith-filled contents in his numerous books, works and poems, he has become that ‘salt of the earth’ by enriching the lives of others, and the ‘light of the world’ by showing the light of God to those who were still in darkness and ignorance of God’s truth and love.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord as the ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ from now on? Let us all commit ourselves anew and be inspired by the good examples of our holy predecessors, and be good Christians from now on in words, actions and deeds, at all times. May the Lord bless us all and guide our path, now and always. Amen.