You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.”
A woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the judgment seat.
”Who are you?” a Voice said to her.
“I’m the wife of the mayor,” she replied.
“I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.”
“I am the mother of four children.”
“I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.”
“I am a school teacher.”
“I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”
And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”
“I am a Christian.”
“I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.”
“I am the one who went to church every day and always helped the poor and needy.”
“I did not ask what you did but who you are.”
She evidently failed the examination, for she was sent back to earth. When she recovered from her illness, she was determined to find out who she was. And that made all the difference. (Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight, 140)
Like the person in the story, most of the time we are using social and functional labels to identify ourselves. When we were born, our parents gave us a name. We have used that name to identify ourselves so that others could recognize who we are. We identify ourselves with our names, with our occupations and professions. We identify ourselves with the school we attend, with the company we are working with, or with the organization we belong to. All these are the social and functional labels that others or we have attached on us. They are all superficial and not satisfying answers to the question, “Who are you?” But it seems that we are dependent on these labels. We use these labels to define ourselves. We would feel insecure if we do not have any of these social and functional labels to define ourselves.
Jesus gives us another way to define ourselves. He says,
”You are the salt of the earth.”
“You are the light of the world.”
Why does Jesus use salt to describe and define a Christian?
Salt-water occupies a large portion of the earth. Salt gives flavor to food. Salt preserves meat. Imagine if you have high blood pressure and you cannot eat food with salt in it. The food is not tasty at all. It is no fun to eat a salt-free food. The food will not be very delicious if we use salt-substitute instead of real salt. Salt also has the power for purification and healing. When we have a tooth extraction, the dentists or our mothers instruct us to wash our mouths with salt water. We use salt water to clean the sore in our mouths. And Jesus is saying that what Christians are to the world is what salt is to the earth. There is something special and unique about being Christians. If that uniqueness is lost, we would become worthless. Human living is better when we promote Christian principles in our society. The world will be less pain if Christian values are observed. Salt is necessary and indispensable for a good life. Christians in the world are equally necessary for the life of the world. Many people are using salt-substitute for food. We cannot and should not allow our society to become a Christian-salt-free society. We cannot and should not use salt-substitute for our Christian living.
Light helps us to see. Without light we cannot see. Without light, our vision will be blocked. What light is to our vision is what Christians are to people in the world. Christians are the light of the world. Christian faith gives vision to people in the world. Our Christian faith is like a lamp setting on a stand to give light to everyone in the house. Our Christian faith is like the city sets on a mountain cannot be hidden. We are the lamps to give light to all people in the world. Our Christian light must shine before others that they may see our good deeds and glorify our God. Being Christians mean that others, by observing the way we live our lives, may find the meaning and the direction for their own lives.
Through our Christian faith, others may see the power of God and find the meaning of life.
Through our Christian faith, others may see new possibilities and find hope.
Through our Christian faith, others may see love and find compassion.
Through our Christian faith, others may see understanding and find forgiveness.
Through us our Christian faith, others may see the values of life and find strength.
The tragedy of Christians and Christian society is that the salt has become flat and the light has stopped shinning or being kept in a secret place. Jesus questions, “If salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” “Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket.”
For example, on Thursday February 7, 2002, The Houston Chronicle had an article about Enron Company. “Enron, a word that once stood for prestige and status, morphed into a word that now stands for deception.” “The word Enron has now taken on the meaning of being laid off, of keeping things from shareholders and employees.” Referring to other failed businesses whose employees lost out because their retirement funds were heavy on company stock, Jane Bryant Quinn wrote in New Weeks Magazine, “We have seen ugly, enronish sights before.” Tom Daschle, the Senate Majority leader says, “I think we are slowly enronizing the economy.” We are enronizing the Budget.” Enron is losing its salt. Enron is no longer a shinning star of Houston. The “Enron Boys and Girls Club” has changed to the “Holthouse Boys and Girls Club.” Astros is seeking to change the name Enron Field to something else. This is what it means when the salt loses its taste.
When we compromise our Christian principles to follow the modern secular Godless principles; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we compromise our freedom of choice to do good for the freedom to do whatever we want to do regardless how evil and how wrong it is; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we compromise the common good for selfish gain; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we compromise the ethical principles for self-gratification; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we compromise our marital commitment for extra marital affair; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we hear about crimes of sexual abuses in the Church; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When religious ritual becomes a replacement for our relationship with God and with others; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we just go through the motions of religion without faith and when God is not the main focus of our worship; that is when the salt loses its taste.
When we only expect the ministry of the Church to meet our own needs and forget to share our gifts with others in the Church; that is when the salt loses its taste.
The message of the Gospel is a challenge for all of us. Our faith and our living have to be in harmony with each other. We have already seen enough war and weapons to destroy. Now we need peace and food to feed the hungry. We have already seen enough hatred and division in the world. Now we need forgiveness and unity. We have already seen many people being murdered and killed. Now we need to see people with true love and compassion. We have seen enough lying and cheating in our society; now we need honesty and sincerity. We have seen so much salt-substitute and artificial light. Now we need true salt and true light, the light of faith and the salt of God’s love.
Our society will be a better society if you and I try to be what Jesus tells us today. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. The light of Christ enables to see the naked, the oppressed, and the afflicted and not to turn them away, but to attend to their needs. The salt of our faith enables us not to hate but to love and care for others; not to kill but to save; not to judge but to understand and forgive; not to take but to give and to share. The Prophet Isaiah also shows us how to be the light. “Share your bread with the hungry. Shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them... If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”