Sunday, May 15, 2011

Salt and Light

‘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 under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 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.’

I once heard a funny exchange between two Christians about airplane travel. The one said that before he flies, he always prays for some unsaved soul to sit next to him so that he can serve as a witness for Christianity to that person. He loves doing this because the unsuspecting person is trapped next to him for the duration of the flight. The other’s travel prayers are quite different: before he flies, he always prays for an empty seat next to him so that he can stretch his legs and sleep.

I’ve always identified more with the second person and with the less combative and less demanding faith he embodies. Don’t get me wrong, I make no secret of my spiritual life and have no problem talking about it--in fact, I enjoy doing so when there are appropriate opportunities. But I don’t like feeling pushy or violent. I’ve never known quite what to do with the salt and light metaphors Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve always thought of them as very assertive, demanding, domineering, and dualistic, as if the darkness stands in stark opposition to the light and fights against us. But reading these verses a few weeks back, I thought about the metaphors differently.

First, we are the salt of the earth. Salt is something that brings out the flavor that is already in the food. No one would want to eat a dinner of pure salt. To me, this metaphor speaks of going into the world and being aware of and making known the beauty of that world, of God’s good creation. That beauty is already there in God’s creation and in God’s people. Being salt is not a call for violent, pushy Christianity but for a life attuned to the good “flavor” that is already in the world. In the same way, light is something that makes it possible for us to see what we encounter in the world. Staring at pure, bright light is not a pleasant experience; in fact, it blinds us. But when the light is right in a room or in a natural setting, we barely even notice it. Rather, we notice the things that it allows us to see. I think that being like light is about reflecting the goodness and love of God, being aware of how others participate in God’s love, and inviting everyone to a deeper awareness of that love.

I pray that we might all be salt and light.

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