Salt…it’s about as ordinary as you get. Found on most kitchen tables. Fairly inexpensive. And, as anyone who has tried to go on a low salt diet has learned…it is ubiquitous…it is everywhere. Salt is on the ingredient list for just about every item you pick up at the grocery store and every recipe you make.
And…well…that’s because it’s so good. After all, salt’s job is to bring out the flavor in things. When used in just the right amounts, it makes everything better…it enhances and helps you truly savor what is already present in the food. Without salt…things tend to taste bland on their own…and require other seasonings…some Mrs. Dash, for instance. Salt is also used because it helps preserve food. Things last…they don’t rot and go bad quickly when they are cured in salt. I remember learning that from my first “Little House on the Prairie” books when I was a girl… how they stored the meat they had butchered in barrels of salt to preserve it through the winter. It sounded so weird to me then…but that is the way people have preserved food for thousands of years. Salt make things last.
From earliest recorded history, salt has been a precious and integral element of our human story. There are cultures where salt has actually been their currency. And interestingly enough, our own word “salary”… comes from the world salt. The reality is…we need it live. Truly. Our bodies need some salt to keep functioning.
So….Jesus says “YOU are the salt of the earth”. My problem with this is that he doesn’t say he is the salt of the earth….which is what would make perfect sense to me. After all, Jesus makes everything better…he preserves our life, gives us eternal life…brings out the best in us….and he is freely available for all. We need Jesus. Now, I get that. But that’s not what Jesus says. No, Jesus says YOU are the salt of earth. He’s talking to his disciples…to the ones who have chosen to follow him. Which means he’s also talking to us, right? You…and me. We want to follow Jesus. And he says WE are the salt of the earth. Well then….what do we do with that?
It seems that we ordinary everyday faithful folks, found at ubiquitous ordinary everyday kitchen tables around the world…bring out the best in the world. We ordinary everyday folks….when we love Jesus, when we follow his way… bring light and life and hope to the places we inhabit. We make the world better.
Yes, Jesus is saying something here about what a person of faith looks like in the world. And it stands in sharp contrast to the disciples’ experience…because their experience of religious folks was that they made every body else around them feel bad. Most of the religious leaders of their day were folks who held the lives of the people around them up to a strict checklist of the law….and pretty much everyone was found wanting. The law was a list of things you could do and couldn’t to…things you could touch and couldn’t touch…sacrifices you had to make…rules you had to follow…places you couldn’t go…people you shouldn’t talk to…and the religious folks’ job was to use guilt and fear and threats and shame and even violence at times, to coerce people to shape up…and to comply with “God’s will”. That’s what they tried to do to Jesus, too. So the end result was that nobody really LIKED hanging out with Pharisees They were judgmental and self-righteous and smug. They didn’t flavor the world with grace and bring out the nuances of the world around them….no, they left a bad taste wherever they went.
Sound familiar at all? We’ve all had some experience with that kind of religion, haven’t we? The kind that leaves a bad taste in our mouths?
Jesus says that you and I…are the salt of the earth. We are meant to flavor the world with grace. We are meant to fulfill the law…yes. But not the checklist law. Jesus pretty much ignored that — he let his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath and healed sick people on the Sabbath…he ate with unwashed hands and shared meals with unclean people….he touched “untouchable” men and women and hung out with Samaritans and sinners and Gentiles of all kinds. Jesus didn’t care much for the Pharisees checklist law, and he basically refused to comply, no matter how much shame and guilt and threats they heaped upon him. That’s because what Jesus knew that the law of God truly is and what it always will be and always has been…love. From the earliest Torah…the law was simply “Love the lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength..and love your neighbor as yourself”. What does God ask of us? What is God’s idea of righteousness that fulfills the law? Love God. Love your neighbor. Or as Isaiah says – it is that we are not just serving our own interests, looking out for ourselves….but that we treat workers fairly. That we fight injustice. That we do all we can to free people from oppression…. from situations of abuse and exploitation and violence and fear. That we share our bread with the hungry and open up our homes and our hearts to care for those who are in need. That we don’t hide from our own family… the human family …but see all people as our brothers and sisters…who are bound to us by the very nature of creation. That is salt for the world. That is the flavor of grace which brings out the essence of what this world was created to be. That is loving Jesus…and fulfilling God’s law.
Jesus sees US as salt-bearers. As light. Loving Jesus, we don’t isolate ourselves from our neighbors, but we engage the world…spreading the salt and the light…bringing hope and grace to bear where fear and anxiety run rampant. We are salt and light…not pointing fingers in judgment…but lifting up those around us. Seeing the good. Our job is to do whatever we can to make the world a more loving and beautiful place for those around us. For the single mother with Lupus who drags herself to work each day, in the midst of her exhaustion, so she can care for her children. For the young man who just got out of jail and has no idea how to make a better life. For the child whose parents have been killed in a war he doesn’t understand. For the checker at Safeway, and the person you sit by at coffee hour, and the pregnant teenager at school, and your cranky neighbor. The salt we bear is not just for us. Our light is not simply to brighten our own space. It meant for others…to be mixed up into the ingredients of the whole wide world…to light up the whole wide world. That is how this Jesus thing works. That is how God’s kingdom works.
You…are the salt of earth, Jesus-lover. You are the light of the world. Flavor the world with grace. And light up the world with kindness. Amen.