Last week we read the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I came across this rendition of that passage;
“Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around, He taught them saying:
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK. BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL.
BLESSED ARE THEY WHO THIRST FOR JUSTICE.
BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN PERSECUTED.
BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN YOU SUFFER.
BE GLAD AND REJOICE, FOR YOUR REWARD IS GREAT IN HEAVEN.
Then Simon Peter said, “Do we have to write this down?”
And Andrew said, “Are we supposed to know this?”
And James said, “Will we have a test on this?”
And Phillip said, “I don’t have any paper.”
And Bartholomew said, “Do we have to turn this in?”
And John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.”
And Matthew said, “Can I go to the boy’s room?”
And Judas said, “What does this have to do with real life?”
Then one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus’ lesson plans and inquired of Jesus, “What are the objectives in the cognitive domain and your plans for remediation?”
Still part of the Sermon on the Mount, the crowd is growing, and the words flow from Jesus mouth.
“You are salt—you are light.”
Interestingly enough he does not say; “you will become salt and you will become the light.” This sounds like present continuous tense.
As 21st century citizens we have no idea of the value of salt in Jesus time. In a world without refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving food that would otherwise spoil in the heat of that hot and arid part of the world. It was a necessity.
Salt, as we all know, gives flavor to food. It takes the food we have and gives it something extra.
Salt was an expensive and valuable commodity in those times.
Light, as metaphor used by Jesus, speaks for itself. Without light we have no way to navigate the darkness. In Jesus time, simple lamplight could produce enough light within a room, but your activities outside of the house ended when the light faded from the sky.
So, Jesus uses two elements of nature that were essential to the life and comfort of people back then. Light and salt.
And now Jesus makes this shocking statement to those who had gathered to hear him speak; You are the salt—you are the light.
Institutionalized religion does not do well with this message because institutionalized religion most often displays the need to control people. When a religious movement creates its own little empire, it prefers to keep people feeling guilt and unworthy. Guilt-laden people are easy to manipulate.
And here Jesus lifts the guilt factor—you ARE, he says.
But there is certainly also a responsibility that comes with this revelation. Jesus is implying that if we are the salt and the light of the world, then we must act it.
We must be the people upon whom others can depend when their lives fall apart. We must be the people helping other to pick up the pieces when their world collapses in pain and chaos. We must be, in modern times, the people who understand that to love others presupposes that we will take care of this planet that feeds and clothes us and gives us oxygen to breathe.
Jesus did not say that by being the salt and light of the world, we get a free ride. For to take a free ride and turn away from the demands of our times for decency and truth and respect and compassion, means we are no longer the salt and neither does the light of God’s love shine through us
Thomas Merton, that extraordinary human being and monk, once said;
“I have the immense joy of being…a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Listen to this again: “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
But that light can be hidden under a bushel, Jesus warns. Bad choices in how we live, can obscure the light of God that lives in each one of us. It is our responsibility to banish from our lives that which diminishes this gift of God that is within us, and we can.
John O’Donohue, the venerable Irish poet and priest, leaves us with this blessing;
“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart….May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”