The Gospel for February 5th, 2017: “The Similes of Salt and Light”
Reflection: What It Means to Be Salt of the Earth
Like the Beatitudes, “The Similes of Salt and Light” appeal to my poetic side. In particular, Jesus’ comparison of Christian disciples to the salt of the earth provokes a sense of wonder and reflection that requires some thought. In contrast, I can see how light is an effective metaphor for Christians. The notion our “light must shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] heavenly Father” (16) fits with my understanding that Christians may lead others to the faith through the witness of their lives. But why salt?
I think the answer lies in examining salt’s functions. First, salt is an antidote for bland-tasting food. It gives flavor. And so just as adding salt to a dish enlivens its taste, bringing Christian love to society animates it with life. We are a life-seeking people in a culture preoccupied with death due to our fallen natures. While that role sounds exciting in those simple terms, playing the role of salt of the earth is alarmingly difficult because it means we will be different than everyone else. There is safety in being bland and imitating those around us in attitude and behavior. When Jesus says, “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (13), I wonder if he is addressing a reaction from his new apostles to the discomfort of their altered lives. They are no longer like the other Jews; and as a result, they are hated by some. Jesus is making it clear that while it would be easier to be less flavorful and more like others, such a decision undermines the effectiveness of their mission. Christians must be different because we love differently, with a focus on others instead of the self.
In addition to taste, salt also functions as a preservative. The love of our Creator lives within each of us alongside the tendency to sin that brings death. Therefore, a battle wages between those two forces in the world, which is old and apt analogy. As Christians, we preserve Jesus’ life-giving love in the world, allowing it to spread against the power of darkness so that hope remains for the salvation of all God’s people. This speaks to our participatory role in God’s salvation plan. As followers of Jesus the Savior, we help keep alive His mission so that it reaches all of humanity for the duration of God’s epic theo-drama.
In conclusion, our role as salt of the earth makes us different but is critical to God’s plan. By loving as Jesus loves, we bring life to a death-plagued world with the hope that all will be touched by it. This will attract others to that love and spread the faith. The challenge of that mission is that it makes us different and often hated, as the power of sin rages on to combat the life grant by our Creator. So we must resist this power, so as not to lose our flavor. We must keep fighting the good fight. When through God’s grace we are successful, we will participate in Jesus’ salvation of all humanity, including our own. This is not a plan we would come up with on our own. Our selfishness would prevent that. Yet it is within our grasp to be salt of the earth–to be followers of Jesus, to choose life over death. We simply need to trust in our Lord and follow Him as those first apostles did so long ago.