Salt of the Earth

Anthony Zimmerman
May 5, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

City on a Mountain

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Salt provides flavor, Virtue makes life on earth pleasant

Salt provides flavor, and in that sense, the disciples of Jesus ought to make our world to be a pleasant and enjoyable community to live in. We all like to read about the colorful characters in the Gospels, blustering Peter who always elbowed his way to be the first spokesman; the ambitious sons of Zebedee and Salome who contrived unsuccessfully to elbow Peter aside, the theologian John, the doubting Thomas; and the women Martha who liked to cook and her sister Mary who liked to visit; Magdalene who was a converted prostitute, spent lots of money on precious perfumes, but was the first at the Resurrection; and of course the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, who appears to have managed a large household of "brothers" of Jesus, who were at first not believers in Jesus, but who eventually came with Mary to the Upper House with the other disciples, to receive the coming of the Holy Spirit.

What parish does not have a priest who flavors the life of the people - who with the proud cooperation of nuns and catechists and parish helpers educates the boys and girls, who comforts the family when death occurs, who keeps the church clean and beautiful, who praises the flower girls and makes the First Holy Communion so special, who visits homes, cares for the aged, is the focal point of a vital believing community. Yes, the first disciples should remember the words of Jesus - to be salt that flavors with its seasoning the civilization of love. The "Silent Night" of Christmas has become music so beautiful that all the world loves it. Saint Peter's Basilica, with its inimitable dome, is the hallmark of architectural beauty, the target of millions of pilgrims. Every Catholic town and village has a charming spire or gable that upholds a crucifix. The Church must always be beautiful in order to give joy to the people.

Light beams it brightness on its surroundings, The virtues of Christ's disciples are the light of the world

As salt provides savor to food, so light adds sparkle to the world in which we live. Saint John Chrysostom in his fifteen sermon on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, states that virtue in the disciples of Jesus is the light of the world. "Nothing makes a man so illustrious ... as the manifestation of virtue. For as if he were clad with the very sunbeam, so he shines, yet brighter than it; not spending his rays on earth, but surmounting also Heaven itself." What virtues? All those already recounted at the beginning of the Sermon. Their virtues are to be the light of the world; not of this hillside only, not of a few villages or towns, but of the world. Christ will first light the city, the disciples must then continue to beam the light. Chrysostom points with amazement at this prophecy of Christ, that His little band, now seated on the mountainside, would in future salt the earth, and be the light of the world:

Where now are they who persevere in disbelieving the power of Christ? Let them hear these things, and let them adore His might, amazed at the power of the prophecy. For consider how great things he promised to them, who were not known even in their own country: that earth and sea should know them, and that they should by their fame reach to the limits of the inhabited world; or rather, not by their fame, but by the working of the good they wrought. For it was not fame that bearing them everywhere made them conspicuous, but also the actual demonstration by their works. Since, as though they had wings, more brilliant than the sunbeam did they overrun the whole earth, sowing the light of godliness.

Salt preserves food from spoiling, The salt of the scribes and pharisees had lost its tang

Salt also preserves food from spoiling, and its tang must sting to do that. The cheap salt in Palestine that came from the Dead Sea was easily spoilt. The imperfections in it took away its flavor and then it became useless. Some commentators believe that Jesus referred to the pure salt of the New Testament that must replace the corrupt salt of the Jewish rulers and teachers of the time who emphasized rituals but not sincerity of heart. The disciples must salt the new Church with salt that will not spoil. Eventually this would mean a break between the old teaching and the new. To give the apostles the courage and mood to stand up against the old teachings, Christ Himself gave a scathing verbal public whipping to the hypocritical teachers:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, 'If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath' (Matt 23:15-18).

After hearing Jesus lash out at them so bluntly, the disciples had fewer inhibitions against breaking with the old hypocritical teachings. Peter himself would tell the Jewish leader in no uncertain terms that they were absolutely wrong in rejecting Jesus, that they must convert and repent - a remarkable thing for a fisherman to be telling those who considered themselves the teachers and rulers. Stern, unflinching, demanding obedience, Peter stood up to them and poked his thumb into their eyes:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:8-13).

Bishops and pastors today carry the salt and the light into our present world

Today Bishops and priests especially are called upon to salt the sexual corruption of the age and make true doctrine to prevail. They must break with the prevailing worldly fashion of contraception, sterilization, abortion, of pornography, sodomism, gay marriage, easy divorce and remarriage, pills and condoms for young and old, and for ogling politicians who speak with one side of the mouth inside the Church and the other side outside of her. Should the Church back down and be silent? That would to negate her tang. Pope John Paul teaches that it is not kindness to hide truths from the people:

In fact, genuine understanding and compassion must mean love for the person, for his true good, for his authentic freedom. And this does not result, certainly, from concealing or weakening moral truth, but rather from proposing it in its most profound meaning as an outpouring of God's eternal Wisdom, which we have received in Christ, and as a service to man, to the growth of his freedom and to the attainment of his happiness (The Splendor of Truth, No.95).

Peter demonstrates that lies do not belong to the People of God

Peter was there listening to the Sermon on the Mountain. The day would come when he would have to make a stern decision to salt the Church by exposing a lie. One of the Christians, Ananias by name, had sold a field, and then supposedly gave the money to the Church, but he had kept part of it back for himself. He had lied.

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him (Acts 5:3-6).

Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, then came in, also lied, also fell down dead. The Church had made her statement: "One does not lie to the Holy Spirit! Ever!" Hypocracy is out. Sincerity is in. To bask in the admiration of the Church by means of a pretense was not to be tolerated. Politicians who promote abortions on week days and receive Holy Communion on Sundays, take note.

If you visit St. Peter's at the Vatican, be sure to look for the mosaic on this dramatic scene. Sapphira has fallen over backwards in front to Peter, hair flying, dead instantaneously.

Pastors naturally find it difficult to always tell the hard truths to people whom they don't like to hurt. Chrysostom gives them courage to do so anyway, because in the long run, they will like you better for it: "For this is the marvelous thing, that not by flattering, nor soothing, but by sharply bracing them, as salt, even so they became dear to all men," And he goes on to say that pastors must keep their salt tangy so that they can salt the flock as well: "Wherefore I would have you not only be prudent yourselves, but that you should also make others the same. And such persons have great need to be intelligent, in whom the salvation of the rest is at stake: they ought so much to abound in virtue, as to impart of the profit to others also. For if ye do not become such as this, ye will not suffice even for your own selves."

From the time of the Sermon on the Mount we members of the Church do not always keep our salt pure, and our lamps shining at their brightest. But thanks be to God, the salt of the Church as a whole retains its saltiness, and her lights shine on brilliantly. Until the end of time the Church pursues her mission to promote the civilization of love, to heal corruption, to brighten what is dark. For Isaiah says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (49:6).