Thoughts from Father Don
Reflection on being Salt and Light
February 9, 2014
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The phrases “I am Salt” and “I am Light” may make great copy for t-shirts or bumper stickers, but the responsibility tied to them can seem rather frightening. And yet the Lord, without reservation, places upon us those very identities. He calls us to a manner of life, not just a manner of proclamation.So where does this imagery lead us? Let’s start with salt. Salt is simply a chemical compound made of sodium and chloride and yet it has been crucial for humanity from the beginning of time, and is absolutely necessary for life to exist. It has a long history of uses as diverse as a flavor enhancer to an instrument of healing. In addition, salt’s ability to preserve food has been foundational for the development of civilization. It helped to eliminate the dependence on the seasonal availability of food and it allowed travel over long distances. And as crucial as salt is, historically it has been very difficult to obtain, and so it was a highly valued trade item to the point of being considered a form of currency by certain people groups. This value is apparent by it being the origin of our word “salary” and the phrase “a person being worth their weight in salt”.
But in truth, salt has its value in what it does and accomplishes, not just by “looking good.” Furthermore, it is valued not for what it does for itself, but for what it does outside of self. Similarly, we too are called to be a value outside of ourselves. God (through Isaiah) chides Israel for using the Fast days predominately for themselves. He says:
Is not this 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?
Living out the message of God’s love and grace through Jesus is as critical as salt is. We carry the truth of God’s infinite Love and are bearers of a reality that brings life. And as strange as it may seem, the Lord entrusts us to that task. Being responsible for such a precious entity would be completely overwhelming if it were not for the fact of God’s grace. Living as salt, and therefore bringing healing, flavor, permanence, and life to the world around us is not done by our own strength alone, but it does require our willingness to be so empowered. An openness to God using us for his purposes.
And what about the call to be Light? What about the call to so shine that the world may see your Godly works and give glory to our Father in heaven? While there are many aspects suggested by light, including revelation, direction, bringing clarity, etc., I want to limit the focus to where the psalmist directs us today. He states:
Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
Receiving The Light, that is the revelation of God’s grace and love in the face of our Lord, Jesus, leads to mercy and compassion. Two brief definitions. Mercy is about not “giving what is deserved”. It carries with it the notion of not only clemency but paying the cost incurred freely for another. It is not a denial or ignoring of a wrong, but boldly pointing it out and then offering immediate forgiveness.
Next, we have compassion. Compassion is the wholehearted identifying with the sufferings of others. It means daring to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that we ourselves are not exempt or free from suffering and therefore not making a false division between “WE” and “THEY”.
Usually, these two are closely knit together. Our very desire to be merciful is dependent upon our knowing personally the effects of suffering in the midst of our own lives. But the empowerment to actually show mercy and compassion comes from the mercy and compassion that has been shown to us by God himself. These two are not simply about an emotion, but an action.
A.W. Tozer said, “A great many people are very merciful in their beds, in their lovely living rooms, in their new cars. They have compassion (a noun), but they never ‘compassionate’ (a verb). They read some thing in the newspaper about somebody suffering and say, ‘Aw, isn’t that terrible! That poor family was burned out and they’re out on the street with no place to go,’ and then they turn the radio on and listen to some other program. They’re very compassionate – for a minute and a half – but they don’t ‘compassionate’; that is , they don’t do anything about it. But God’s compassion leads Him to actively ‘compassionate’.”
Being salt and light, admittedly, is counter to our cultural upbringing which is to take rather than to give; to dilute and darken rather than flavor and illumine. But as we are more and more transformed into the image of Christ, we live more and more into those labels given to us by our Lord. We move away from a life bound by our fears and move toward a life that is quick to acknowledge the abundance of life we have in Christ Jesus.
We ARE salt and light. This is true not because we already are, but because by the mercy, grace and love of God we WILL be. May we offer ourselves anew this day to be his instruments in this world in which he has placed us.