Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel (5:13-16)
“Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.”
In other words, a follower of Jesus should be immediately recognized by the things that they do. One’s deeds should identify an individual as a follower of Jesus. Today, many individuals whom identify themselves as “Christian” might be surprised that Jesus did not call His first disciples by that name. In fact, the followers of Jesus wouldn’t be called Christians till years after He was gone, and then not in Jerusalem or in Galilee, but in the foreign country of Syria. They were first called Christians in Antioch. It was a condescending title given to them by their enemies.
And Jesus did not call His first disciples to join His new religion. Remember the three words that Jesus spoke to everyone that He called? “Come follow Me!” Come and go where I go! Stay where I stay! And do what I do! Jesus called his followers to a way of life. And yet, as I look at all the issues currently facing our society, I can’t help but wonder how many of us that use the name Christian to define ourselves are really aware of what that name means and what that title implies.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” He was speaking to His followers when He said that. Well what exactly did He mean by that statement? Salt is simply sodium chloride. It is a mineral that is used as a flavoring agent and as a preservative. And it tastes salty. I’m sorry but there is simply no other way to describe its flavor. Salt is salty and it is easily identified by its salty taste. But it is a mineral that is absolutely essential to the existence of human life here on earth. We, as humans, can get along without a lot of things in this world, but we cannot survive without salt. For example, when Napoleon and his army were retreating from Moscow, after losing their war with Russia, thousands of Napoleon’s soldiers died along the way. Historians all agree that those men died from battle wounds that simply would not heal. Those wounds wouldn’t heal because these soldiers had been deprived of salt in their diet over a long period of time.
Science tells us that salt is necessary in our diet because salt provides sodium, which is an essential nutrient for life. They say that we should get around 2,300 mg of salt a day. We Americans, however, consume about 2 or 3 times that amount every day in our daily diet. Salt may be a good thing and it may be necessary, but as we all know, too much salt is not good. Too much salt can make you thirsty. In fact, too much salt can be destructive. Just pour some salt on your grass and see what happens to your lawn.
But the proper amount of salt is a good thing. It blends well with our food. When properly proportioned it doesn’t dominate, rather it enhances the flavor of our foods and helps bring out the best flavor that those foods have to offer. Salt can also preserve. Meats and fish are sometimes salted to preserve them. Salt also purifies and removes impurities. Those of us who have water softeners all know that we use salt to remove the impurities in our water softener systems.
But Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth. So if we consider ourselves to be a follower of Jesus and if we use the name Christian to define who we are, we need to look the properties of salt to see what He expects of us.
Well just as salt has a distinctly salty taste; we Christians must also be salty. There must be something about us that is shared by all believers which sets us apart from the rest of society. People should be able to look at each and every one of us and see something that marks us, something that sets that us apart.
But given that we are individuals with unique personalities and talents, how can it be that each of us may possess attributes that both set us apart while at the same time identifying us as “one of them”? Well Jesus is simply calling us to be who we were created to be and to do what we were created to do, while living in the light of God’s love. And when your heart is overflowing with the love of God, you can’t help but radiate that love and that joy to the world around you. And this is not something that you have to muster up. This does not require any training or special education. It simply happens naturally by being a child of God and sharing in the nature of Christ.
Just as salt is necessary for our earthly life, the message of the Gospel and faith in God is also necessary for our eternal life. It is the Christian who brings that message to the world by simply allowing the love of God to shine forth in our daily lives. And just as too much salt can be destructive, we Christians are also to be disruptive and destructive at times. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians (5:11-13)
“Take no part in deeds done in darkness, but rather condemn them. It is shameful to even mention the things these people do in secret, but when such things are condemned they are seen in the light of day, and all that then appears is light.”
Just as salt brings out the flavor of the foods it is blended with, we Christians are also to do our part in contributing to the overall good of the world as well. It is our job to stir into action love and good works in others. We do this by advising, encouraging and expressing confidence in those around us. But remember, we are not to criticize or belittle others. That is not our job. Our job is to show God’s love, compassion and encouragement.
As salt is a preservative, we Christians are to serve as a preservative. In this regard, we are wise to consider the words of the late Pope John Paul II’s words to World Youth Day participants in Toronto (July 18-28, 2002), when he remarked:
“For a long time, salt has been used to preserve food. As salt of the earth, you are called to preserve the faith which you have received and pass it on intact to others. The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of faith, God’s free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind.”
When Jesus said, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father”, His call was simple. He wasn’t telling us to move mountains or to transform a whole culture. He wasn’t calling us to perform tasks that lie outside of our talents or abilities. He was simply calling each and every one of us to be exactly who we were created to be. To be like salt to the earth! Easily identified and distinctly different! Radiating the love of God! Condemning what is evil! Helping to bring out the best in others! Preserving and passing on the gift of faith. And allowing the love of God to shine through our daily lives!