¨Are you salty? Am I salty? We need to be salty says Jesus. Why, what is there about salt that is so desirable that we are told to be the salt of the earth? Don’t our doctors put us on low salt diets, because there is too much salt in our diet, and this excess of salt contributes to hypertension and cardiovascular disease? Does Jesus want us to keel over dead from being salty? What is he driving at, anyway?
Have you ever tried to eat food without salt? Are you on a salt free diet, or have you ever tried one? I have, and I can tell you I went back to salting my food as soon as I was beyond the reach of the kindly dieticians who removed it from my daily diet. Even the poorest diet of tortillas and salt, or “tortilla con sal”, requires it. Do you regularly reach for the salt-shaker? I confess that I do. Why? Well, because salt gives a wonderful flavor to the other flavors of the food. And despite the bad press it has today, it is indispensable to human life. We need salt. Our modern day problem is that technology has made salt extremely abundant and extremely cheap and so it has found its way into most of our food, in amounts that are excessive. Food processors use it because it enhances the flavor of their offerings. Still and all it is necessary to maintaining human life. Curious fact: vegetarians need much more salt than meat and dairy eaters. Why? Because animals themselves need salt to stay alive, and this salt permeates the tissue or milk products we consume. It is lacking however in grains and other foods of vegetable origin.
So if Jesus’ followers which include you and me are the salt of the earth what does that mean for us? It means we are called upon to have the same effect that salt has on an otherwise bland dish. We are to give the life around us character by our witness to the truth that is in Jesus. If we do not impart salt but rather become bland ourselves we are no longer good for anything. If we lose our saltiness we are worthless, says Jesus. So we are called upon to be the flavoring if you wish in the world around us.
Jesus then launches a second metaphor for us his followers-we are the light of the world. If the master of the house has lit a lamp, he does not put it under a bushel basket. We are meant to give light to the entire house. I read that as an injunction to act as light in the community in which we live and witness our faith. In so doing others will give glory to God in heaven for what we do. We are meant to be sources of light to others.
How might that tie in with the Old Testament Lesson we have heard this morning? Jesus in this morning’s Gospel tells his listeners that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. As you know, these groups in Jesus’ time were known for very strict adherence to the external aspects of the law, but what about their hearts? Listen again to what Isaiah has to say about this ritualistic behavior: “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”
Righteousness does not consist of kneeling, genuflecting, or fasting. The ceremonies and the external rituals of faith are secondary to the Lord. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” says the Lord. The content of our obedience to the Lord is important, and it does not consist primarily of faithful attendance at ceremonies or observance of rituals. The righteous person will struggle against injustice, will help the oppressed become free, will undo the knots of the yoke under which the poor labor. The righteous man and woman will seek to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to support members of the family when they come looking for help. In other words, righteousness requires engagement with the inequality and injustice that surrounds us.
We are called to be an active force in the community around us. In so doing, even though we are a minority we can be like a pinch of salt and transform the reality around us, defining and sharpening its flavor. Likewise we are lamps lit to illuminate the entire community. When Jesus asks us to let our light shine, it is not for our glory, but to provide light for others. If we do this, then it shall be counted to the glory of God, not ours. And this is as it should be.
I believe that if we take the Prophets and Jesus seriously we will not be content with the state of things as they are in this world. Jesus when he call us to be salty and to be as lanterns is calling on us to be transformational like salt is, and to reach out to those around us, to illuminate them, to inspire in them the love of God, and to do what is pleasing to God. “Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion” says the Psalmist in today’s psalm. This is, I submit the type of righteousness that Jesus is demanding of us-not that we pay attention to externalities like the scribes and Pharisees, but that we practice mercy and compassion. This is what is pleasing to God. This is the offering that is pleasing to him. Let us in silence ask God to guide us in the pathways of mercy and compassion.¨ Ricardo+
St. Alban English Mission, Antigua, Guatemala is a outreach project of The St. James English parish, Episcopal Diocese of Guatemala, IARCA
The Most Reverend Armando Guerra Soria, Rector and Primate
The Reverend Ricardo Frohmader, Associate Minister
St Alban Mission holds services every Sunday at Noon
Casa Convento Concepcion, Antigua Guatemala
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