This past Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew (5:13-16) calls us to be “salt of the earth.” We are all familiar with the importance of salt in cooking, but how are we to be “salt” to others?
Salt, when used properly, is supposed to enhance the flavors of the dish it is mixed within; it is not supposed to be the star ingredient. There is a fine line when adding any spice or seasoning, including salt, as you can’t take it out once you add it to the dish. Salt should be added sparingly, the food mixed well and then tasted before adding any more to the dish. This is the way I view using salt in my cooking. However, salt can also be a matter of preference. Our taste buds are unique to us and each person can taste things differently. To one person adding a particular herb or spice can make the dish unpalatable, yet another may want to add more of that ingredient and the level of saltiness is no different. In pondering what it means to be salt to the earth, my first thought is, “how do I make the Gospel taste better to others?” Yet, I’m not sure if that’s the right question to ask.
The Gospels are the Word of God from every aspect, as they are literally the accounts of Jesus, the Word of God in the flesh when He lived on earth. I don’t think there is anything I can do that can make the Word of the Almighty better than it already is. The message of how God wants a personal relationship with us so much so that He came to live among us and even died a torturous death in order to go to the farthest, scariest, place humanity can go in order to bring His Love and Mercy to all. No, there is nothing I can say that would make it any more appealing to people.
Some may say that we need to make the message more acceptable to the age and the culture of our time. However at the time of Jesus, His ways were very shocking to the society and against the norms: talking to the foreign woman at the well, touching those with highly contagious diseases, and socializing with the outcasts of society are just a few examples. Jesus didn’t “sweeten” His message to the people at that time, but rather called them to be changed, to be converted via a relationship with Him. He would forgive sins and instruct them not to sin again, that is to say not to fracture the relationship with Him. In John’s Gospel (6:22-69), known as the Bread of Life Discourse, some of Jesus’ followers could not understand or accept His teaching about Him being the bread of life and no longer followed Him. Jesus didn’t chase them down and try to soften His message, but looked at His chosen Apostles and challenged them if they accepted what He said. If people walked away from the Word of God Himself instructing them, I can’t see how I can make the Gospel message any more to their taste.
So why is Jesus commanding us to be salt for the earth? We can’t change the message, what are we to do to be like salt? Perhaps it’s not what we say, but our actions that show us to be salt of the earth. Perhaps by showing how having a relationship with God, with Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit, we are enriched and live a hopeful life. It’s not about God taking away all the difficulties and smoothing the path of life for us, but rather inviting God to walk with us on our journey, asking for His support and companionship along the way. When others see us even in difficulties being able to have hope in the outcome, there is an attractive quality in that example. In going through challenges, when I say, “God will see me through this,” it’s not some trite sentiment, but rather a pale echo of the Blessed Mother’s yes to the Archangel Gabriel in that I am leaving it in God’s hands to do what He sees best. It is difficult for us to allow God to work in our lives without limiting His abilities. While it’s one thing to petition for a specific outcome, we need to be careful not to be disappointed if God chooses to answer our prayers differently. But when we truly turn our situations over to God, there is a sense of peace that we receive. This peace-filled countenance is also attractive to others and thus making a relationship with God something of interest. This is how we can be true salt to the earth, and in demonstrating the richness of a relationship with God, we are being salt to the message of the Word of God.
To be salt is not to “flavor” the Gospel or to “sweeten” the message, rather it is by living out our relationship with God that makes the Gospel, and a life lived in relationship with God, “tasty.”