You are the Salt of the Earth: A Reflection on Christ's One-Track Mind

Douglas P. McManaman
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Our associate pastor asked me to switch weekends with him because of the surgery he just had on his knee; he was worried he would not be able to stand for very long. That was not a problem at all, but when I saw the readings, even better, I thought to myself; for I had just finished talking about this very reading to six grade six classes Our Lady of Grace School and St. Jerome's. That was the parable for the month of January - we visit and discuss a different parable every month. And the kids were able to figure out the essential meaning of this parable by just answering a few questions, such as "What was salt used for in the ancient world?" And many of them knew: before the invention of the refrigerator, salt was used to preserve fish from corruption. It still is, in fact. Salt is used to bring out the flavor of foods, and its glistening whiteness is a sign of purity. But salt plates or tiles were also used in earthen ovens, as a catalyst for burning dried dung, from cows, or donkeys or camels. Dung was the fuel used in earthen ovens; in fact, it still is in many parts of the world. Christ tells us that we are the salt of the earth, but salt can lose that property of being a catalyst that ignites the fuel for the earthen oven, and when that happens, it is disposed of, thrown onto the ground, and dismissed as useless.

There's a lot of meaning contained in this little parable. First, a true disciple of Christ will be a preservative force in this world, who as a result of his or her influence, keeps others from corruption. The opposite is one who leads others into sin. In fact, the harshest thing Jesus ever said in the New Testament is that anyone who is a source of scandal to these little ones who believe in me, better for that person to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea. That is indeed the harshest thing he has ever said.

The frightening thing is that there are sources of scandal all around us, leading others into sin and disbelief, especially the young. Society is very different today than it was when I was a child. There are many positive differences, but one way that society today differs from the society of my childhood is the place of censorship. There are things we just did not see on TV or at the theatre. We were protected from such images. Today, very little is kept from the eyes of children. Moreover, addiction to pornography today is a much bigger problem than it has ever been, and that too has serious effects on the chemistry of the brain. Pornography affects the way men habitually look at women; they don't see a person, they see a body to be consumed. This is going to be devastating for marriages in the future.

We, on the contrary, are called to have a counter corrupting influence on others. We can only do so if we are committed to the highest moral standards in every area of life (financial, sexual, medical, etc.). But what is particularly interesting about this parable is the image of becoming useless, good for nothing, to be trampled underfoot. Again, this sounds rather harsh. And it is harsh - so few realize how harsh Jesus is in the New Testament, because they don't read Scripture, and so they fabricate an image of Jesus that conforms to how they want him to be, not how he actually is according to the biblical texts.

But what does it mean to become useless in the eyes of Christ? People are useful when they serve a purpose. And there are countless goals that people have in life, so many that virtually everyone can be put to use in some way. But Christ has a purpose, and his purpose is not the same as anyone else's in this world, and it is more important than any other in this world. He says, this world is passing away, but my words will never pass away. He has an eternal purpose. And if we can't serve his purpose, we are like salt that has lost that fundamental property of acting as a catalyst that burns fuel. What's his purpose? He came to establish the Kingdom of God over and against the kingdom of darkness. He came to defeat death, to reconcile man to God, to rise from the dead. He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. He said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." He did not come to raise Israel to the status of a kingdom again, as his disciples expected, by defeating the Roman Empire. Rather, he said in the gospel of Luke: "I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" He's referring to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Letter to the Hebrews refers to God as a consuming fire. The Holy Spirit is the life and soul of the Church. The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son is the fire that ignites our personal life. Our heaven is to begin here and now.

If we are called to be salt of the earth and a light to the world, we are called to ignite the lives of those around us. We are called to be channels of his light and life. If the fire of the divine love burns within us, we will bring light and life to others. We will be a preservative influence on others, not a corrupting influence. Our work is his work. It's all about Christ; nothing else, nobody else. St. Paul says: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. We have to become him. If we do not, we are useless to him. Christ has a one track mind. He has one purpose. He came to ignite a fire on the earth. If Christ is interested in anything other than our salvation, it is only because in some way it serves that salvation. He came to save. His very name "Jesus" means "Yahweh is salvation". He said: "he who is not with me is against me". We can lose our saltiness, by becoming cynical, bitter, indifferent, but above all lukewarm in our faith. A lukewarm Christian has no influence on others. Jesus said he would rather us be hot or cold, but if we are lukewarm, he'll spit us out. Our life can't be divided between our own purposes and Christ's. He wants us all to himself. He demands that we have the same one track mind as he does: He said: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things will be provided to us". If we do as he commands, we will begin to experience his joy.