Matthew 5:13-16, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
As a teen growing up in a Catholic family, living in one of the most Catholic areas of Germany, I never would have considered abandoning my faith. But I also never would have considered getting excited about it either.
Why should I? Nobody else in my parish seemed to be excited. It was the time before Second Vatican Council – the Masses were in Latin which nobody understood. The teens in the parish went wild at the new rock concerts, and the adults got excited about birthday parties. But when I looked around at these same people during Sunday Mass, I saw more blank faces than passionate ones.
So I assumed being Catholic was about denying yourself a bit of fun now so that something really bad would not happen to you later (namely, hell). But I did not want to get there, so I went faithfully every Sunday to Mass – because it was an obligation, and tried to avoid serious sin.
You would think that one of the beatitudes was blessed be the insipid. But instead, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount you are the salt of the earth. Salt is spicy, not dull and boring. It actually has the power to make tasteless food tasty and to preserve food that would otherwise spoil. Salt was so valuable in antiquity that it was often used to pay soldiers their wages. The Latin term for salt is actually the origin of our English word salary.
What Jesus is saying here about Christians is that flavorless Christianity is like putting sand on your French fries: something is different about the taste, but it’s not something good. Salt is a staple in many recipes, in many cultures, and it is not easily replaced. Neither pepper nor chili powder, for example, would have the same effect. People want salt to add flavor.
Christianity is meant to make a unique contribution to society and culture, even for those who do not believe in Christ. For believers, like that salt shaker on the dinner table, it is indispensable and we can accept no substitutes.Salt subtly contributes to many recipes and is only appreciated at times when its absence is noted. It’s meant to blend in and contribute, and we have to make sure it receives the credit it is due. A world without Christianity is like a world without salt, flavorless and prone to spoiling. But, first of all, Christians must not be bland and dull but enthusiastic.
Jesus is very clear that he is not paying for salt that has no flavor. It is good for nothing but the trash can. This reminds me of what the he says in the Book of Revelation to a group of less than impressive Christians: in Laodicea: because they were neither hot nor cold but rather lukewarm, he intended to spit them out of his mouth. In other words, lukewarm Christians make God sick.
This is not to say that one must be an extrovert, entertainer, or brilliant lecturer to be a successful Christian. It’s not about personality. It’s about heart. It’s about approaching Christian life with passion rather than with a yawn. After all, on the day of Pentecost Jesus did not rain down gentle snow from heaven, but fire. In the presence of fire, people don’t take it easy and hang around. They move, and move quickly.
We cannot be the light of the world unless we are on fire. The Christian life cannot be lived on autopilot, like a robot. That sort of existence is not living, but surviving. And it will attract absolutely no one to Christ and the Catholic Church. Maybe one of the reasons that Christianity is losing so many members every years, especially in Western countries, that Christianity and the Church is seen as boring: tasteless, unattractive. Christians are not just meant to glow; they’re meant to shine, to provide so much illumination that they light up the world.
Being a light in the world is not just satisfying material needs, but something deeper. Mother Teresa once said, “There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation in this world than for bread”. The true poverty against which we must struggle is a poverty of love. The absence of love is like darkness that leaves people without direction and future. And here we have an opportunity to be light in the world, in our families. in our neighborhoods, at our working places. As Mother Teresa put it, “It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters. If you love, your actions will start to reflect it. This kind of “hunger” is everywhere, rich and poor. Seek to satisfy not only in what you do, but in how you do it.
Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that Christianity is meant to give taste to an otherwise tasteless, boring society, to be a light on a high place or a lampstand: it is meant to shed light on many things, even things not directly considered Christian, because ultimately the Gospel is a message of truth and goodness that contributes to every level and sector of society, directly or indirectly.