Today’s gospel immediately follows the Beatitudes. And the readings are saying that the Beatitudes must not only be lived, but seen to be lived. The Gospel reminds us that it is essential for the Christian disciple both to be seen and heard.
Jesus uses a string of images to express this: He wants his disciples to be the salt of the earth. Salt is a basic and essential item in our diet, but it had a particular value in ancient culture. It is a purifier, a seasoning and a preservative. This was especially the case in the days before refrigeration. Today we tend to take in too much salt and are warned about doing so. But in older times, it was a precious and often expensive commodity and because of its value it was often a favourite item of taxation.
What Jesus emphasises is its distinctive taste. We often judge food by saying it has too little or too much salt. Christians then, by their Gospel-centred lives, are to give a distinctive taste to society. Those who really have the spirit of the Beatitudes (including non-Christians) will permeate the world, renew it, and retard its social and moral decay.
But salt only produces its effect when it is totally merged with the food. It is indistinguishable from the rest of the food, but its presence or absence is very obvious. The Christian, too, can only be truly effective when he or she is fully a member of society and, at the same time, gives an unmistakable taste to that society.
There have been times when Christians felt that they should keep away from the “world”. Monks and nuns, who were among the most committed Christians, built large walls around their property to keep the “world” out. Although they clearly did have a visibility of their own, especially in an all-Christian society. Their very separation from the rest of society and the lives they led were meant to be a challenge. In a secular and pluralist society, such witness may give a very different message and be less effective.
In our Western society, we often put salt on the side of the plate. This is like the Christian who does have taste, but who lives on the fringes of society and makes no impact on it. This can happen very easily when, for instance, we have a parish which is only concerned with its own spiritual well-being and makes no effort to reach out. There are many parts of our society, especially the commercial, industrial and entertainment areas where the Church is often totally absent. The other extreme is when a Christian is totally immersed in secular society, but has nothing to give. This is like the tasteless salt which is good for nothing.
‘Based on content copyright of Sacred Space, used with permission’ https://www.sacredspace.ie