Sheldon Vanauken once wrote,
The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians--when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. (Encounter with Light, p. 10)
The Gospel lectionary reading for today goes along rather well with Vanauken's statement. In Matthew 5:13-16 we read where Jesus says...
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.In Jesus' day salt was highly valued and it was associated, for one thing, with purity. The Roman world thought that salt was the purest of all things because it came from the sun and the sea. Of course, the glittering whiteness of salt caused people to think of purity. Salt was often used as an offering to God, even in the Jewish religion. And so when Jesus said to his followers, "You are the salt of the earth," he was calling attention to the purity that needed to be in their lives, lives which could be offered wholly to God's service. A few moments before this Jesus had said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."
How do Christians remain pure amidst the dirtiness of this sin-stained world? The only way is through Christ living in us and cleansing us by his blood. A Christian is someone who gives as much as he knows of himself to as much as he knows of Christ.
The only way we can be the salt of the earth is also the only way we can be the light of the world.... Jesus paid a great compliment to his disciples when he said, "You are the light of the world." This was a great compliment because Jesus also said, "I am the light of the world." The only way any of us can be the light of the world is by reflecting Jesus' light, passing on to others the light we receive from him. It is like Jesus is the sun and we are the moon.
We must remember that when Jesus spoke these words he was saying something very familiar to his own people, the Jews. To the Jew, Jerusalem was "a light to the Gentiles". Jerusalem was also the city set upon a hill. And they believed that "God lit Israel's lamp." But now Jesus was applying this word specifically to his followers and saying: you are now the light of the world.
That is a big job: being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. None of us are fit for this job in and of ourselves. We need to ask Jesus to be salt and light in us and through us. I wonder where each of us might add a bit of flavor to the world this week. Where might each of us shed some light in a dark place?