I find that most people who claim themselves to be Christians do so because, in some way, Jesus has touched their lives and effected some kind of conversion in them. I don’t think I would be too far off to say that he has touched each of your own lives in some way, as he has mine. And so, if he has impacted us, should not our lives look different than everyone else’s, than people who are not Christians and who have not encountered the transformative power of the Gospel message. Mahatma Ghandi, a famous leader in India, once told a Christian friend, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These words from Ghandi are both sad and powerful to reflect upon. He must not have encountered Christians living as salt & light, as we hear we should be!
In the Gospel reading today(Matthew 5:13-16) we are challenged by Christ’s words to his disciples, as they are just as relevant for us who are his followers today; “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” Why would Jesus use these metaphors? Firstly salt. What is it used for? In Jesus’ time it was used to preserve, to cure meat so that it wouldn’t go bad. Salt is also used to bring out flavor in food. It brings out a fuller flavor, a richer taste, of the food to which it is added. Salt can also have an opposite effect, it can render infertile. Think of the Dead Sea, a body of water bordering Israel. It is so high in salt content that no plant or animal life can live in it or around it.
Now for light. Light illuminates. We can see the beauty of things when they are illuminated. We also need light so that we can see where we are going. It can guide us in the right direction towards something (think of commercial airliners landing at the airport. There is a special strip of lights at the end of the runway so that the pilots know if they are approaching at the right angle, both at night as well as during the day).
Notice that salt, as well as light, exist not for themselves but for something else. In and of themselves they hold no value, their value is in what they accomplish, or what change they effect. So how does this apply to our lives. We need to think of them in relation to our role as Christians! Our job, by our witness to Christ, is essentially to preserve, season, to bring out the richness of what is best in our society and culture. And also, on the other hand, to get in the way of what is dysfunctional in our society in order to render it infertile. We also are to bring the light of Christ to the world, to bring light where there is deep darkness, to illuminate all that is worth seeing while at the same time exposing all that is ugly. By the quality and integrity of our life we show what has value and reveal what doesn’t have value. By our actions others should be able to say, “That is what we are meant to be.”All of the saints embodied this, but I think of Saint Mother Theresa, in her example of bringing Christ to the neglected. It was never about her, but about bringing Christ’s face to others so that they would see Him. But at the same time it exposed the injustice that these people were neglected by society, dying on the streets. She brought value and dignity and richness to these lives, to these people whom she served. We may not be able to serve as Saint Mother Theresa did, but what we can do is bring the face of Christ to those we meet every day, to our own family members(that is usually where it is hardest), and even to our enemies.
Something I heard recently really inspired me in this manner, of what we are to be for the world, for others. Our own holiness, our own spiritual life, our relationship with Christ doesn’t merely exist for our own happiness and for our own salvation, but for the world’s happiness and the world’s salvation, for those who will encounter Christ in us and through us! So just as salt and light only have value in what they effect, so also, in a way, our own holiness has value in what it effects in others.
One final thought before I close: Jesus warns us, “If salt loses it’s taste… it is no longer good for anything.” Being a Christian and being salt and light are inseparable. This is our entire purpose, to be salt- to season and destroy, to be light- bringing direction and exposing the ugliness(of sin) which is to be avoided. If we lose sight of this we become useless, as salt that has lost it’s taste, “no longer good for anything.” The world needs vibrant Christians, otherwise it will lose it’s way. What would be guiding and giving taste otherwise.
We are, each one of us, a city built on a hill. We cannot be hidden! By your profession as a Christian you are being looked to, whether you realize it or not. How are you being salt? How are you being light? The world is in need of Christ, this great treasure that we bear, so do not lose your taste, do not hide under a bushel basket. Instead, let your light shine!
*Part of reflection adopted and paraphrased from Bishop Robert Barron’s homily, The responsibility of Christians during troubled times