February 5, 2017
In the Gospel today Jesus explains the nature of discipleship by two comparisons which have become familiar to us: “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”. Learning these in school as a child it was easy to understand that a light should not be hidden but allowed to shine out and “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. However, the saying about salt is not so obvious. Understanding has come to me more gradually.
It’s only when you get interested in cooking that you begin to understand the importance of salt. It makes things taste better. Although, obviously, you can overdo it, it is salt which brings out the taste of bread or vegetables or meat; and a certain amount is essential in our diet. Recently I read a history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. When they reached the mouth of the Colombia River they had to spend the miserable winter of 1805-1806 on the Pacific Coast before they could make their way back over the Rockies; the only thing that made it bearable was that they were able to manufacture a good supply of salt from the sea water, sufficient for the long return journey to St. Louis; without salt, they felt, they would not survive. Salt is also a preservative. As a seminarian in Rome I remember seeing huge pieces of cod hanging up outside grocer’s shops; they would almost last for ever because they were heavily salted. Through the centuries many different cultures have used salt to preserve meat, fish and vegetables through the warm weather and that use would have been well known to Jesus.
Surely, then, Jesus is saying that Christians are like salt in the world because they make it a better place. Like salt enhancing the flavor of foods, we are here to show the true meaning of life. Our faith does not destroy the gifts of our human nature – our intelligence, for example, or our sexuality – but brings out the full richness of them and demonstrates how they can lead us to God. Additionally, like salt, Christians have a role in preserving the world from corruption. A Godless world is not a happy world, but if we can keep the values of Christianity at the heart of our society we can halt its decline into selfish chaos.
Jesus says there is a risk that salt can lose its taste. That was also hard for a child to understand, but I guess if salt is stored in a damp place it can gradually be diluted and its nature changed; or if it’s stored with other strong tasting substances like onions and garlic it can absorb their flavor. Perhaps the message for us is that we should not let our Christianity be diluted or spoilt by outside influences. Christians need to remain salty characters!