If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. (Isaiah 58:9b-12)
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 hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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. (Matthew 5:13-16)
Well, whether you like it or not, the snow is falling again, and our Bobcat team is - again - on the move to clear the parking lot. I was greeted on my way into church this morning by a St. Tim’s member who was holding a red Starbucks cup full of blue salt that he was about spread along the sidewalk, and I thought, how appropriate! He must have known that today’s gospel begins with the words, “You are the salt of the earth.”
There is a version of the Cinderella story from England in which a father asks his three daughters how much each of them loved him. The first daughter responded, “As I love my life.” The second daughter responded, “Better than all the world.” But the third daughter, the youngest, the prettiest, the favorite, responded, “I love you as fresh meat loves salt.” Angry and confused, and certain that she must NOT love him at all, her father threw her out of the house. As the story goes, she ends up disguising her wealth and beauty, working as a servant for a rich family. She puts aside her disguise and shows up in all her wealth and beauty at a grand ball that the rich family hosts, where, of course, the master’s son falls desperately in love with this mysterious stranger.
Being a Cinderella story, it takes some time and some wit for him to track her down and discover her true identity, but of course, he does, and of course, they plan to marry. They invite people from far and wide to attend the wedding feast, including, of course, her estranged father, who has no idea that she is even still alive. She tells the cook who is preparing the feast to make every dish without a lick of salt, to which the cook replies, “Well, that will be rare and nasty!” The guests at the feast watch all of this delicious food being set before them, eager to eat, but disappointed when they taste the bland, salt-less food. It is at this point that the young woman’s father begins to cry: “I had a daughter,” he says, “And I asked her how much she loved me. And she said, 'As much as fresh meat loves salt.' And I turned her from my door, for I thought she didn't love me. And now I see she loved me best of all.” At this point, the young woman and her father reunite, they pass salt shakers around the table, and everyone lives happily ever after!
I’m not sure that you should rush home today to make a Valentine for your sweetie that says “ I love you like fresh meat loves salt,” but we all get the idea - something as ordinary as salt can be an extraordinary metaphor for love.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says, “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.” Jesus, too, uses something as ordinary as salt as an extraordinary metaphor for the love that drives our faith to action.. Jesus speaks frankly to all of us who consider ourselves disciples, and encourages us to be salty.
Without wanting to stretch the metaphor too far, it seems to me that Jesus here is asking us to consider the relationship between salt and saltiness - that is, the relationship between God’s gift of grace and the fruits of our faith.
The question of relationship is at the core of both our gospel text and our reading from Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking to the Israelites, who are struggling with the question of what it takes to repair and sustain a right relationship with God. The Israelites throw themselves into pious acts of worship and devotion, hoping that God will find favor with their fasting. Isaiah has the hard task of telling them that their acts of devotion and worship mean nothing if they are not also pursuing the “fast” of justice and peace. “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and the Lord will guide you and satisfy your needs and make your bones strong.”
The message here is that being in right relationship with God is in some fashion dependent upon being in right relationship with one another and with the world. Or, in other terms, it’s no good to be salt if you aren’t salty.
I was reading an article earlier this week in which the author lamented that the church too often sets up a false dichotomy between the inner life of devotion and the outer life of faith in action. Some churches would say that your inner life is more important - that prayer, personal devotion, and faithful introspection are the most important ways to sustain your relationship with God. Other churches would say that your outer life is more important - that seeking justice, caring for neighbors, and advocating for the poor are the most important ways to sustain your relationship with God.
But it seems to me that both Isaiah and Jesus are encouraging us to see BOTH our inner and outer lives of faith as essential partners in building and sustaining our relationship with God. The time we spend in worship and prayer helps us understand more deeply the heart of God for us and for the world. And the way that we treat our relationships with one another and with creation affects the way that we treat our relationship with God. We “practice” our relationship skills in our everyday living, and our devotional, spiritual, inner lives of faith are affected by the skills we practice.
The late Pope John XXII wrote, "Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them."
Our insides and our outsides affect each other. Peace with God within translates into peace with one another. Practicing justice and mercy in the world translates into a deeper understanding of God’s own justice and mercy. God has made us light to brighten the dark parts of our world and salt to season the bland or lacking corners of creation.
One writer says, “[God] wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Those of us who live in Christ are sent on that mission into the world. The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from the life of God within us.” (Deacon Keith Fournier, Catholic Online)
God has chosen each of us and blessed us to be salt. And as salt, we have no choice but to be salty. As you come to the table today and eat the bread of Christ’s body, given for you, think of the salt that gives taste to the otherwise tasteless dough of flour and water. Think of the light and heat that transformed shapeless dough into a nourishing and sustaining loaf of bread. And consider that you, too, are called to be salt and light, bringing out to the world a foretaste of God’s feast to come. It is your time to bring redemptive change to the world. The life of God is within you, making you light, making you salt. Go, therefore, into all the world, and be salty, as God as called you to be.