“You are the salt of the earth” -- “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says to those gathered around to listen to him and learn from him. This is what he so often does. He picks up on features from everyday living and he uses those to take you somewhere -- somewhere beneath the surface, to somewhere radical --as in root-- rooted in our life in God.
“You are the salt of the earth,” he says, getting us thinking about ourselves as salt, that basic --not fancy-- but rather magical ingredient … how it only takes a little to transform the whole, creating something all that much more flavourful, desirable.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says
And just who is it he’s speaking to there? From what we gather in Matthew’s Gospel, it’s this crowd of --many of them-- broken people. People who are bringing their broken ailing friends and loved ones to him for healing. These are people ground down by oppressive systems, policies, rulers, even by some of their own people. It’s what happens when you live in occupied territory
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says to them!
“Fat chance!” we might hear them say, murmuring among themselves.
Maybe Jesus hears it too … so he runs with it.
“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.”
“Amen! Now you’re talking!” the crowd erupts, like they were some Southern Baptist congregation!! -- this people who know what it is to be trampled underfoot … how it is a people can lose their essence, their verve, their transformative value and purpose.
They’re with him now.
Except that he goes on … like he’s not prepared to take back what he first declared: you are the salt of the earth … and so he lands another one: “You are the light of the world.” And before they have a chance to argue, he goes on: “A city built on a hill cannot be hid,” he says.
So now we’re talking about visibility, exposure, vulnerability, illumination.
“No one lights a lamp and then hides it, but sets it up on a stand so it gives light to all in the house. In the same way let your light shine before others,” Jesus says, “so they may see your good works and give glory to God.”
I’ve always understood this passage to be speaking about our gifts, our God-given talents …and the encouragement not to hide them … how it can happen that because of modesty or shyness or fear, we hold back. But this time, I’m hearing that the light is not something we have, but who we are. So Jesus isn’t talking about hiding a thing but about hiding ourselves.
Shine! he’s saying. Show up! for God’s sake. Let yourselves be seen! so that through your presence, another person’s world may open up to the wonder of God’s presence.
This is what comes out all the more when we hear the voice of the prophet Isaiah alongside. And what’s the thing he’s so eager to convey? All those pious practices you’re about, they don’t matter a wit to God, when you neglect your neighbour … when you hide yourselves from those with whom you are bound in this covenant of love.
On Friday night I went to see the movie Harriett. It’s the story of Harriett Tubman, that young slave girl who ran for freedom, only to become this force for the freedom of others through what we know as the underground railroad.
There’s this scene in the movie where Harriett is with this large gathering of deeply concerned people in this palatial room inside what I think is the residence of a government official. These are people, black and white, involved in some way in the underground railroad. By the way they’re dressed, you get the sense it’s a gathering of the elite. It is very soon after a law has been passed declaring that slaves who have escaped into freedom are no longer protected in free states like Pennsylvania where Harriett herself ran to. So now, the so-called railroad would have to reach all the way to Canada. Where Harriett had been making a way for people across 100 miles, now the journey would be 500 miles.
As everyone in the room is absorbing the details, you see them shaking their heads … there’s just no way; it’s too far, we can’t do that.
And then you see Harriett step forward, and raising her voice she says something to the effect of “It’s only too far if you’ve never been a slave. But I’ve been a slave," she says, "owned by somebody, used and abused." And she goes on to paint just enough of that harsh barbaric picture, and reminds everyone, that "right now, there are people who are living that, right now. Because of them," she says, "this journey is not too far. It can’t be too far.”
And you see the nods beginning to happen all around the room … like a whole new awareness just dropped down into the depths in their beings … and there’s this resolve to find a way.
That’s salt! That’s light! That’s “light breaking forth like the dawn” as Isaiah puts it. All those people gathered in that room, they’re good people … their hearts in the right place. They care. They’re on the side of freedom. AND the journey was going to be too far … UNTIL they heard – really heard-- from Harriett, with their hearts.
Sometimes that’s what it takes … we make a move, an essential move, not by doubling down on our will to do 'gooder'; but by undergoing yet another conversion by getting close enough to see or hear with our hearts. So we might ask ourselves: what are we doing? where are we placing ourselves such that our passion for life is ignited, and we are ourselves set free – free enough from our own self-concern— that we do not hide from our own kin but reach out, connect, care.
For 50 years now, we have known, our governments have known about Grassy Narrows … and many other communities of Indigenous people where the water is not safe for drinking – right here in Canada!
The word is out and has been for some time that Indigenous communities receive far less funding for child support services than non-indigenous communities … communities where the need is all the greater and the cost of delivering those service much higher … yet the funding, the support is woefully inadequate. Where are we placing ourselves that our passion might be ignited? Cindy Blackstock for whom this is her deal, she’s coming to Victoria, March 2nd … speaking at the Reconciliation Dialogue event hosted by our city council. The details of the event are in the printed announcement page.
The Tech Frontier Mine -- the largest tar sands mine ever proposed, that if built, it would lock us into decades of new oil extraction. Do you know about this? It’s actually being considered as a real live proposal right now by our federal government. A decision is to come at the end of this month.
What about this covenant of love in which we are bound with our neighbours …neighbours that include generations yet to be born, and the Earth herself, and all her creatures. Where are we placing ourselves?
Shine! Show up! for God’s sake. Let yourselves be seen! Jesus says. Do not hide from your own kin … but reach out, connect, care. It’s in doing this that our light breaks forth like the dawn!! Isaiah tells us. And not only that. He announces that in doing so, our healing will happen! And still not only that! “Your vindicator,” he continues, “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 God will say, Here I am.” In other words, we’re not alone as we commit to the welfare of one another.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world, Jesus says, now to us …
And while it might not be possible to restore saltiness to salt, just maybe by God’s grace, a people can be re-invested with its essence, it’s transformative purpose.
You are the salt of the earth … light of the world.You are agents of transformation! Jesus tells us, names us, reminds us. Don’t go searching for it … it’s in you to be this … it is who we are!
What a time to be alive in our world! With all its troubles right now, what a time to be part of turning the tide.
You are the salt of the earth, you are the light to the world … in first Century Galilee Jesus didn’t have in mind foot ball stadium floodlights! But a flame. How one candle in a darkened room transforms the whole space.
We’re not the whole deal … never meant to be. Salt and Light … it is enough--so long as that is who we are!
It has been given to us to make a life giving difference. What a time to be alive in our world!
Thanks be to God.