Have you ever wondered who you are? Have you ever wondered what you are? What if you had a letter on your desk when you woke up in the morning and it was glowing with angelic light–you take a look at it and it reads, “From God–this is what you are–please open.” Would you open it? Would you take it seriously?
I know I would.
And yet in our gospel, that is what we are hearing. In the document that we say is inspired–The Holy Bible–our God, our lord and Savior Jesus Christ is saying a few things that we are. We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world
Don’t you think that these things deserve looking into just a bit? It’s odd that if someone at work tells us that we are lazy, or some supposed new age guru tells us on the internet that we are “this and that,” or even our parents tell us that we are “something or another,” we will believe it. But how much credence is in these statements? How much truth? But when we hear our God telling us who we are in the holiest text that has ever been written, we might actually yawn, look at our watches, and wait for mass to get over with? I know that isn’t true of all of you, but it certainly is of some. What’s up with that, I wonder? Isn’t it a major question that we need to answer in this lifetime: Who am I? What am I?
Jesus’s statements may sound poetic, but they are still Jesus’s statements–they deserve to be meditated upon. I would simply like to help you reflect on what they mean, so that you might come closer to the answer of that great question, “Who and what am I?” Simple answer: you are the salt of the earth. you are the light of the world. What does it mean?
You are the SALT OF THE EARTH. (halas tas gas)
What is the only danger that Jesus mentions about the salt? The danger is that it loses its flavor. Interesting though, the literally translation of this word that is translated as “lose its flavor” is “to become foolish” (moraino)! It is the root word for the word “moron,” in English–it’s a little amusing, but Jesus kindof says “If the salt becomes a moron, it is only worth being thrown out.” (When I thought of that, I had to laugh.) We use salt, of course, because of its flavor. It has been used in the past as a preservative. If salt loses that flavor, it has become DEFECTIVE–it is moraino–MORON SALT. There is a word in Greek that means “saltiness,” (i.e., alizo) but Jesus doesn’t use that word. He could have said literally, “If salt loses its saltiness, then what will salt it again?” But he doesn’t say that. When other more logical words could have been used but aren’t used, I think we need to stand up and take notice of this. That is why I am making so much of the meaning of these words. The reason this word can mean both “to be a fool” and “to lose its flavor” is actually quite simple–in both cases, the underlying meaning of the word moraino is TO BECOME DEFECTIVE. It means that something has lost it’s way–it has lost that quality that makes it what it is supposed to be. Think of a contract without a signature. This contract has become moraino — it is not binding. It has lost that thing that makes it really what it is. It is no longer a binding agreement–it is just a fancy piece of paper.
So I guess the key question is what makes Christians truly who they are? What is our “salt”? What is our “flavor?” What flavor do we have that no other group has? What truth do we have that no other people do?
Well, we can’t lose our flavor. We cannot become foolish. In our second reading, St. Paul actually tells us that our faith must not be based on human wisdom, but on the power of God. So the flavor that Jesus must be talking about is a flavor that the world doesn’t usually think as a good flavor. The wisdom that Jesus is talking about must be a kind of wisdom that the world considers foolish–otherwise, it would be easy to accept. If our wisdom were like any other wisdom, wouldn’t it taste like everything else? What is our special wisdom? What is our special flavor?
I think a huge hint for our answer is that Jesus delivers this comparison about salt and light right after he finishes the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I mean directly aftewords–as in the very next line after the beatitudes, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth…etc., etc.” Arent’ the beatitudes a kind of wisdom hard to accept? Aren’t the beatitudes a kind of flavor that no other group really has? Let me briefly remind you of the beatitude basics:
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice…
And blessed are those who revile you on account of the name of Jesus Christ.
These beatitudes are hard to take. But hasn’t it always been a little difficult to classify the beatitudes? They aren’t really exactly commands. They aren’t really laws. They have been called “attitudes” before, which is a little closer. Isn’t it a wise comparison to say that they are more like a flavor? They are the seasoning of Christianity! Why do we use seasoning? We usually season ordinary things so that they taste extraordinary. We season bland things so that they can become tasty.
These beatitudes are supposed to be the flavor that we bring to the ordinary activities of the world. Not only this, but Jesus says that this is who we really are. This is what we were meant to do, and if we do not do this, then we are USELESS. Do you know that in Vatican II’s document directed to the laity–a document written at the highest possible authority of the church–there is a shocking sentence that reads as follows: ” The member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church is said to be useless to himself and useless to the Church. Work is the duty of every Christian.” That doesn’t mince words, does it? And what sort of work? It is that sort of work that is flavored with the beatitudes.
And as for the light of the world–our actions, this work, is meant to be seen. What Jesus means is that we are not supposed to blow a trumpet and announce how holy we are, but these attitudes–this dedication to Jesus and to a life of humility, work, and service–is supposed to be NOTICEABLE to the world. Our religion is NOT meant to be hidden behind these church doors. That is what some of our politicians want us to believe. They want us to be satisfied that we have the right to worship–well, the right to worship is not the same as the right to free exercise of religion. Free exercise of religion should also mean that I should have the right to live in a society free of filth and persecution, and we do not presently have that. Right now we have the right to hide behind these doors and say mass, and it may not be long until we lose that as well. The rest of the world really wishes we Catholics would keep all of our other moral nonsense to ourselves. Well, if we are to be salt and light–NO DEAL on that. No deal. I am sorry if my faith offends you. But you can be just as certain that your filth and godlessness offends me. So I guess we are even.
Pope Francis wrote in his last document: “At a time when we most need a missionary dynamism which will bring salt and light to the world, many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time…. Some resist giving themselves over completely to mission and thus end up in a state of paralysis and acedia (Joy of the Gospel, 81).” But why? Why do this? Why give up my free time to be salt and light? Maybe the answer is in our first reading with incomparable beauty:
Thus says the LORD:
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed…
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
Don’t you want that? Lord, I want that! I want that. Maybe we should give this a try?! Maybe we should pray today about how I can be salt and light so that this promise of the Lord will come true for us. Because it is a PROMISE. When God promises something, shouldn’t we take him seriously? So SERIOUSLY God? If I do these things, then you will respond THAT radically? If I am salt and light, then you will be joy and healing?
Think about it this way. No one can see God–no one has seen the Father but the Son. Jesus himself said that. We are told that he dwells in unapproachable light, and that he is enthroned on the praises of his holy ones. I love that. No one can see the light of the Father, but people can see the light of the father if it burns in my heart, can’t they? I can salt this cruel world with my mercy. I can be light to this prideful world with my humility. I can be salt to this selfish world by my acts of service and my determination to love. I can be salt and light when I am not afraid to say that Jesus Christ is the only answer, and that there is no other answer. I really think this world is desperate for us to remember our original vocation to be salt and light–my brothers and sister, this world is growing bored of itself. It is growing dark and sinister, selfish and cruel. Jesus himself prophesied the following: “Towards the end…many will fall away…many will be offended [by my teaching] and will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the multiplication of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold (matt. 24:10-11).”
These words are as chilling as the cold hearts that Jesus prophesies about. We cannot let this happen. And the way to season a dull world is to make sure My flavor tastes like the Eucharist, and the way to brighten a dark world is with the mercy and love of my heavenly Father.
I recommend a total offensive attack on this culture of death–to burst these doors determined to be salt and light.