Last week I wrote about the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the Beatitudes and is one of the great discourses in the Gospel according to Matthew. I thought I would provide some more food for thought as our Sunday gospel continues with the Sermon on the Mount – better described as the Discourse of Discipleship.
In our reading today, Jesus uses two of the most well-known metaphors: “You are the salt of the earth.” and “You are the light of the world.” (Mt 5:13-14) Two things that are vital to human life – not nice, but vital. Several years ago, NPR aired a report about an isolated area of Myanmar (Burma) with no natural salt deposits – at least my memory says Myanmar (my search of NPR failed to uncover the story). This very fertile land was unoccupied because of that reason until an earthquake moved a mountain and a road was opened to the region. At least then people could live there and travel to market to buy salt. Salt is that vital to human life. But beyond the life-sustaining aspect, salt gives flavor and is used to preserve, to prevent corruption.
“You are the salt of the earth.” This is what Jesus proclaims to the disciples, to the ones who have already responded to his call to follow him. And all of this is in connection with the Sermon on the Mount’s focus of letting disciples know the demands of the kingdom. Disciples of Christ need to be life-giving, need to add the distinctive flavoring of being “blessed,” and to preserve others for life in the eternal kingdom.
Disciples, if we are true to our calling, make the earth a purer and a more palatable place. But we can do so only as long as we preserve our distinctive character: tasteless salt has no value. The Rabbis commonly used salt as an image for wisdom (cf. Col. 4:6), which may explain why the Greek word translated as “lost its taste” actually means “become foolish.” A foolish disciple has no influence on the world; a foolish community makes no difference in its locale.
It raises the questions whether as a community or individuals – are we salt for the earth? What is distinctive about us as disciples? Our church buildings are very distinctive. But are we? If we are not, then we are simply foolish.