“If salt goes flat, how can you restore its flavor?”
Many people suffer from a lack of identity and a clear sense of purpose. They wander aimlessly, feeling as though they have no reason to exist. In today’s gospel, Jesus offers those who would follow him identity and purpose. “You are salt. You are light. You are a city set on a hill.” The Romans of Jesus’ day had a saying, “There is nothing more useful than sun and salt.” Jesus affirms his followers that they are the most valuable commodities in the world. They are good for something. In fact, in Roman society, soldiers were paid in salt. (From whence comes our word salary). One used to hear the saying, “He is not worth his own salt.” But Jesus says we are worth salt, not only to him but to the world. We have an important role to play in this world. For the Romans, salt was also a symbol of purity. It is in our purity that we affect society around us as salt affects the food we sprinkle it on.
There was a book out a few years ago with a catchy title “Out of the Shaker and into the World.” I didn’t read it, but I imagine that it spoke of our need as salty Christians to get out of the church building and into the needs of society. Salt that stays in the shaker is of little value. Likewise, Christians whose religious experience is limited to Sunday morning are also of little value. It is only as salt is applied to the food that it preserves the food or enhances its flavor. In Jesus’ day there was, of course, no refrigeration. Unless salted, meat would spoil. It is only as we involve ourselves in society that we keep it from spoiling. This, I’m afraid, becomes an indictment against us as we look at the condition of society today. Somehow, while the majority of Americans claim to be Christian, we have had too little effect. Our religious experience is too private and too compartmentalized. God is for church on Sunday but not for the office on Monday. Jesus warned against this very thing. “If salt looses its flavor, who can restore it?” He warns us not to fear being radical. Our Christianity is to mean something. Our presence should be known…not, however, in an obnoxious way. Salt is the enhancer of food not the food itself. Salt loses itself in the flavoring of the food. So too Christians are to lose themselves in the service of others.
Jesus also calls us the light of the world. We are, by our good works of charity and justice, to bring light into the darkness around us. We are, in the words of Isaiah, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and remove oppression. When we do these things, then we are lights, not illuminating ourselves but the pathway to Christ. When we do such works the world will certainly take note and Christ will be glorified.
This highly visible kind of Christianity will make us like cities set upon a hill. The Roman practice in conquering a new territory was to set up a little outpost of Rome on the highest part of the captured city. There Roman expatriates would so live the Roman life, with its culture, language, and traditions, that those around them would become envious and desire to live this way also. Thus the Romans were able to influence and more effectively govern new territories. Christ lays this strategy out to his disciples as his plan of action as well. We are to go into the world and set up alternative societies. We are to so live the Kingdom kind of life that people will want to become part of it.
|Fifth Sunday Is 58: 7-10; I Cor 2: 1-5; Mt 5: 13-16|
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.