Pass the Salt and Put on the Lights – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of the Year

In the gospel today the Lord describes metaphorically (figuratively) what a Christian is and what He expects of us. Note five things about what He says.

I. The Definitiveness of his Proclamation – The Text says You are the Salt of the earth….You are the light of the World…..But if salt goes flat it is good for nothing…..No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket.

The Lord is definitive in two ways. First he says, “You.” He is not talking to people long ago, or someone next to you. He is not merely talking to your pastor, or only to the Saints. He is talking to you, “YOU are salt, YOU are light.” You. It’s too easy to say, “Look what the Lord is saying to them, long ago, near the lakeside.” It’s not long ago, It’s now, it’s you.

The second way the Lord is definitive is that both images depend on us, and if we are not salt and light then no one else is around to be this and we have utterly voided our worth.

  1. Look at the metaphor of salt:You are either salt, or you are nothing, in fact, good for NOTHING. As Christians we have signed up to be specialists. We have signed up to be Christians. What this means is that if we go off and do anything else, we are nothing, and good for nothing. It’s a very all or nothing scenario. Jesus says, if you have decided to be my disciple your are either going to do that or be nothing. You may go on to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, laborer, or social worker. But the Lord’s got plenty of those, (and so does the devil). Your first and only mission is to be a true and uncompromised Christian and everything else is commentary. You may be a great doctor, but if you don’t do it as a clear and visible Christian you are nothing. You may be a skilled social worker, but if you don’t do it as a Christian, you are good for nothing. Any non-believer can be socially useful as a doctor, sports hero, actor, lawyer, or social worker. But only a Christian can be a Christian. If you don’t do “job one” you are nothing. If you get your kids every good thing, send them off to college, paid in full, but do not bring them to Christ and be a Christian witness  to them,  you are good for nothing. Any parent can give their kids material things, but only a Christian can give them Christ. Got it? You’re either salt (a true Christian) or you are nothing.
  2. As for the light we can note something similar of this second definitiveness. The Lord says, you are THE light of the World, not merely A light. What this means is that if we do not shine, the world is darker. No one can take our place. If we don’t shine by living our faith and proclaiming it,  the world is in darkness. Buddha can’t help, Mohamed can’t pull it off, science and humanism can’t substitute. Either we are light, or there is none. Some may call this arrogant, but I just call it Scripture. The Lord said it,  not us. We are either light or the world is dark. And if the world is getting darker, whose fault is that? We need not go far. Too many Christians fulfill Isaiah 56:10 which says, Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. You may be an exception, too many Christians are not.

Therefore notice the definitive pronouncement the Lord makes here. We Christians are either with the Lord or we’re nothing. We’re either light or the world is in darkness.

II. The Dynamics of Salt – When Jesus says You are the salt of the earth, what are some of the lessons we can learn from salt? Consider four things:

  1. Salt Seasons – Christians are called to add spice to life, to bring beauty, joy and hope to the world. Joy is the surest sign of a Christian. Even our keeping of the Commandments is a source of joy as we experience God’s power to put sin to death in us and bring forth order, self-discipline and holiness. Hope too ought to distinguish us from a world that is often cynical and thinks sin is inevitable. To this world we are not only to declare that the Commandments are possible and bring joy, but to demonstrate it in our very lives. We are to be zesty, passionate, alive and free from sin in Christ. Yet sadly,  we Christians are more known merely for what we are against. Too many Christians are not spicy, do not really add flavor, but are more like bored believers, depressed disciples, fearful faithful, and the frozen chosen. In our best moments though look what spicy things the faith has contributed: Art, music, churches, hospitals, universities, the scholastic and scientific methods, holidays (just a mispronunciation of Holy Days). Note how our  tradition and Scriptural teaching of justice mercy, love, and the dignity of the human person has blessed the world. Do you bring spice to other’s lives? Hope and joy? Scripture says, Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15). Well that means that people notice a hope in you! Do they? How?
  2. Salt Preserves – Before refrigeration, people often used salt to cure or persevere meat. The salt killed the bacteria and other microorganisms that caused rot and decay. We as Christians are called to prevent further decay in this sin soaked world. The truth that we proclaim is meant to preserve people from the decay of sin and over-indulgence. Chastity, justice, generosity, the proclamation of the truth, and so forth,  are like a salt that preserves this world from decay. We must be salt, if we are not, nothing else is. YOU are the salt.
  3. Salt heals – In the ancient world salt was used on wounds. It helped stop bleeding, it killed bacteria and prevented further infection. So too the Christian faith. Through our doctrinal and moral teaching, and our living of it, we are called to bring healing to this world wounded by sin, strife, war, jealousy, anger, bitterness, retribution, promiscuity, unfaithfulness, greed, and countless errors. The Word of God and his plan is a healing medicine for what ails this world.
  4. Salt burns – Yes, salt stings when applied to wounds. We Christians aren’t just sugar and spice and everything nice. When salt is applied to wounds it burns and often causes loud protest. The truth stings,  and the truth of the Gospel can be irritating to a world that is wounded by sin. But, despite the protests of our world, the sting is a healing sting. It is driving out the bacteria and disease of the world and preventing further infection. Just because people protest the Church and howl in complaint at the truth of the Gospel, does not mean we have done anything wrong. The protests often mean we are doing exactly what we must.

III.  The Destination of Salt – Note that the Lord says you are the salt of the EARTH. He did not say you the salt of the Church. For salt to be effective it has to get out of the shaker! Too many Christians are bold in the pew but cowards in the world. They will speak of the faith in the relative security of the Church and among certain friends. But don’t ask them to preach to their spouse, co-worker, even children. That’s too scary. And don’t even think to ask them to knock on doors or to go to the local mall and witness, or stand in front of an abortion clinic.

But salt in the shaker is useless. It has to come out of the shaker to make any difference. You don’t salt salt. Witnessing to fellow Christians may have a limited benefit,  but it is not really the true destination of salt. The salt has to go forth. When the priest or deacon says the Mass is ended go in peace, he might as well be holding up a salt shaker and shaking it.

It’s long past time for the salt (you and me) to go forth. Consider:

  • In the last fifty years there has been a 560% increase in violent crime. It’s time for the salt to work.
  • There are 1.7 million abortions each year in this nation.
  • Since 1970 there has been a quadrupling of divorce rates. And if the overall number of divorces has declined recently it is due more to people not getting married in the first place. It’s time for the salt to work.
  • 43% of children today are no longer living with both their biological parents. That’s a tripling in the number of children living in single-parent homes since the 70s. It’s time for the salt to work.
  • As the family breaks down what happens to our young:
    • A quadrupling in juvenile arrests,
    • 400% increase in births outside of wedlock,
    • 1 million Teenage pregnancies annually,
    • three million teenagers are treated annually for sexually transmitted diseases.
    • 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate,
    • dropping in the average SAT scores,
    • 2/3rds of high school students have experimented with illegal drugs.
    • It’s time for the salt to work.
  • In the schools you cannot pray or mention religion, but condoms are freely available and all sorts of aberrant and alternative lifestyles and philosophies are openly promoted.
  • Parental consent is required for a child to go to the zoo or get an aspirin but in many states abortion referrals are made without parental consent.
  • Our neighborhoods are devastated by poverty, injustice, crime and despair.
  • All this has happened on our watch. It’s time for the salt to work.
  • This world needs for the salt to get out of the shaker and do it’s work of seasoning, purifying, and preserving.

IV. The Designation of Pure lightYou are the light of the world.A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. – Here too, much that is similar can be said. You don’t light light. It is the darkness that needs the light. Light is meant to be seen.  But there are too many undercover Christians, secret agent saints, and hidden holy ones. Jesus didn’t light our light to have it hidden under a basket out of fear or secrecy. He wants the Church, he wants you and me,  to shine. He wants every Christian to be a light so that it’s like a city on a hill! He wants us to shine so that we can’t be hid.

V. The Details of light:  Jesus goes on to say,  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”Notice four things about this light:

  1. The CAUSE of the Light – See that little word: “Let.”  We are to yield to Christ, to allow him to shine through us. He is the cause of our light. Let your light shine. There’s an old Gospel song that says, When you see me trying to do good, trying to live as a Christian should, It’s just Jesus, Jesus in me.
  2. The COST of the light – The light is to shine,  but there is no shining without burning. To shine costs us something. It may be Christ’s light but he shines through us. This means sacrifice. It means letting him use you. It means not always sleeping when you want to, it means not just sitting at home and saying “Ain’t it awful.”  It means getting out and getting involved. It means being “out there” and risking a few things. It means being targeted, visible,  and identified with someone (Jesus) who is hated by many. And in a world that prefers the darkness to light (cf  John 3:19-21) it means being called harsh, out of touch, hateful,  etc. There is no shining without burning.
  3. The CONCRETENESS of the light –  Letting our light shine is no mere abstract thing. Jesus speaks of deeds. It involves concrete behavior. Your light shines by the way you live, the choices you make, the behavior you exhibit. It’s when Christians get married and stay married, stay faithful to their commitments and are people of their word. It’s when we tell the truth instead of lie, live chastely instead of fornicating, are courteous, and respectful. It’s when we respect life, stop reckless driving and all other reckless and risky behavior. Our light shines when we clean up our language, give to the poor and work for justice. Our Light shines when we refuse to purchase pornographic, violent or degrading materials. Our light shines when we love instead of hate, seek reconciliation, and pray for our enemies instead of seek vengeance. Our light shines when we walk uprightly and speak the truth in love, without compromise. That’s when the light begins to shine.
  4. The CONSEQUENCE of the Light– God is glorified when our light shine. We do not act or get involved merely to satisfy our own anger, or to fight for our own sake. We are light to glorify God. It is not about our winning, it is about God shining and being glorified. Too often when we do get involved we can get confused and merely seek to win an argument, rather than glorify God. We can seek for our own priase rather than to have God glorified. We need to pray for good intentions for it is possible to do the right things for the wrong reason. The desire result is God’s glory not our glory.

OK, Pass the salt and put on the lights!

Here’s another video from Fr. Francis Martin here in DC. As he spoke, I was shoutin a few Amens and saying “Make it plain preacher!”

Hat tip to Cynthia for sending me the link to this video. Try not to tap your toe too much: