Image: Priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname.
‘The salt of the earth and the light of the world’
Bible study prepared by Andrew
Sunday February 5, 12-1pm.
See conversation notes below.
Thursday February 9, 7-8.30pm.
All welcome. At the manse or via Zoom.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 858 1336 0721
Reading: Matthew 5:13-14.
Key texts: Mark 9:49-50; Luke 14:34-35; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; Isaiah 2:2-5.
Themes: salt, light …
The Similitudes are the words of Christ that immediately follow the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”
“Disciples must not keep their faith to themselves but must spread it in society, shining their light in visible ways. If they fail to do these things, their saltiness will be of no value and their light will remain hidden” (Patrick Whitworth).
“[P]eople who are prepared to live in the vulnerable, non-grasping way pronounced ‘blessed’ in the beatitudes are the ones who can really help lift humanity’s burdens, thereby becoming and remaining ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’. The vulnerable ‘make the world safe for humanity’. In this way the community that receives and puts into practice the Torah reinterpreted by Jesus reclaims the vocation of Israel to be ‘light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 51:4; 60:3; cf. 58:8,10)” (Brendan Byrne).
“Just like salt brings out the flavour in food, how we live our lives can bring out the best in our communities – love and mercy. And as a light brings illumination to all in a house, how we conduct ourselves can help bring clarity and compassionate understanding to others” (Miriam Pepper).
“The Sermon on the Mount would ring hollow if not for Jesus’ own way of life in accordance with his teachings – a life lived in love and service, offering challenge and provocation to those who profit at the expense of others, welcoming people considered to be unclean and unworthy, and refusing to react with violence when threatened but instead to suffer the consequences” (Miriam Pepper).
“Our word salary (from the Latin word for salt, sals) takes us back to a time when wages were paid in blocks of salt. Because it was so precious, people would sometimes dilute it with fine sand, thus stretching it to last longer. After a certain point, however, the saltiness would be so diluted that the substance became worthless, except as something to be scattered on the beaten path to one’s door. So too, the special savour of a God-centred life can become so diluted as to have no efficacious influence on the larger society” (Ron Miller).
“Scholars refer to the early Christian communities as house churches, since the members of the community could often meet in one person’s home … Such minority groups can easily be understood as a seasoning to the larger society” (Ron Miller).
“It seems to me that the salt has got lost when instead of preserving justice on earth, Christians have let injustice multiply more, as has happened now in capitalist society. We Christians wanted to prevent that, but we haven’t. Instead, Christians have sided with injustice, with capitalism. We have sided with selfishness. We have been a useless salt” (Olivia, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“It seems to me that the very same thing is happening right now here. Christians don’t have that Christian taste. They’re simple-minded, insipid. Only the ones who are struggling for a just society are the ones who have that taste of salt” (Elvis, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“When somebody is very stingy they say that ‘he wouldn’t give you salt for a sour prune’ …” (Marcelino, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“It’s all the same, ‘have love’, ‘have salt’ …” (Olivia, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“It is interesting to reflect on whether the church in our day is seen as bland or salty …” (Dorothy McRae-McMahon).
“Nonviolent resistance is controversial. One aspect is to bring to the surface, dramatise, or illuminate injustice in ways that cannot be ignored. The salt march, led by Gandhi in opposition to the British Raj – drew attention to the injustices of colonial rule and rallied numerous Indians to the cause” (Miriam Pepper).
“Salt can be used to draw out toxins from infected tissue. We might think about toxins, then, including ignorance, disrespect, immaturity … bigotry and superiority. How to draw out these kinds of toxins, that wounds might be healed … bodies and spirits set free” (Andrew Collis).
“The example of the lamp suggests outreach. In this case, a tiny lamp can bring light to an entire one-room house” (Ron Miller).
“The light from the lamp refers to the disciples’ good works, just as the lamp indicates the faith from which those good works spring …” (Ron Miller).
“Jeshu’s disciples can already taste and touch in him the reign of God that for most people remains a distant horizon – either removed in the mythological past of the primordial paradise or distant in the eschatological promise of a transformed world” (Ron Miller).
“Maybe the light is the good people, who practise love …” (Felix Mayorga, The Gospel in Solentiname).
“A city is a great union of people, and as there are a lot of houses together we see a lot of light. And that’s the way our community will be. It will be seen lighted from far away, if it is united by love …and that’s what Christ is talking about, is love” (Marcelino, The Gospel in Solentiname).
‘The Old Men of Athens’
The old men’s wives
are the salt of the earth,
for their men to return
from the tavern where
they sing and dream.
When the old men dance
their steps are small
and light as air.
For a moment they tread
the savourless salt
of every day
under their feet
until the bouzouki
stops, and their
slumped on chair-backs
remind them of
the salt of the earth.
Gail Holst-Warhaft has worked as a journalist, broadcaster, writer, and academic. In the 1970s, while carrying out research for two books about Greek music, she performed as a keyboard-player with Greece’s leading composers, including Mikis Theodorakis. She is an adjunct professor in at Cornell University where she directs a program in Mediterranean Studies.
Epiphany 5, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
February 9, 2020
Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
‘Your light will shine like the dawn – and your healing will break forth like lightning!’
The South Sydney Herald “about sheet” includes the following: “Inspired by a prophetic commitment to neighbour-love (Isaiah 1:14-17; Micah 6:8), we are challenged to consider the gospel in journalistic mode. A key gospel text is Matthew 5:13-20, which calls us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world – helping to bring about reconciliation, wholeness and justice, and resisting tendencies toward divisiveness and sectarianism.” God be with you …
The “about sheet” condenses a longer “vision and guidelines” document (2011) worth revisiting.
In the opening paragraphs of that longer document we read: “Publishing a community newspaper is a uniquely effective means of engaging our community, building relationships with various community groups and individuals, including residents and business people, politicians, activists and artists … The opportunity to model Christian faith and values is unique.
“Inspired by a prophetic commitment to justice and neighbour-love (Isaiah 1:14-17; Micah 6:8), oriented, that is, ‘to what is right and good for the world’ (C.S. Song), we are challenged to consider the gospel in journalistic mode, which means, among other things, discerning genuine public interest from sensationalism or gossip, and maintaining standards that profess strength of evidence over ferocity of opinion …
“As publisher of a local newspaper the Church recognises a responsibility to reflect on its own commitments to justice and peace … In this regard, one key text is Matthew 5:13-20, which develops the Beatitudes. Those aware of ‘spiritual poverty’ and connection, humility and happiness, Jesus says, have public roles and responsibilities. They are to the world around them as ‘salt’ and ‘light’.”
In the past I’ve preached on salt and light in terms of a call to be “interesting” (flavoursome, not bland) and “interested” (brightly engaging, not dull) people. But you don’t need me to tell you what these metaphors mean …
Jesus is blessing and commissioning his followers to season and to enlighten.
They are capable of such ministries. They are precious as salt and light. We are precious as salt and light. Jesus says, “You [second-person plural] are precious in the Earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven.”
I recall director Damon Gameau’s documentary, 2040, which imagines the future in light of human ingenuity and collaboration – advancing solar and wind technology, decentralised energy systems, reclaiming city streets as fruit and vegetable gardens, city carparks as city parks, implementing conservation-regenerative agriculture, marine permaculture, carbon sequestration, supporting small farm-holders, addressing overconsumption, inequality and corporate greed.
Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel reveres light “at the convergence of truth and love”. “This light,” he writes, “we must radiate toward one another, knowing very well that our role consists above all, and perhaps even exclusively, in not being an obstacle to its passage through us.”
Paragraph 3.3. of the SSH vision and guidelines document says: “There is an art to all this. Too much salt (too great a concern for ourselves or our ‘message’) ruins the dish and the diet. Too much light (too great an emphasis on our own opinions and judgements) is overpowering, withering. We are called to be a people/publication that seasons and enlightens, that enhances particular and different flavours (perspectives, experiences, interests), that helps to make visible vibrant colours. The art of producing a community newspaper is evangelistic and missional. It is the art of participating in the mission of God (Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love). It is the art of being present, bearing witness and risking love.”
It’s important we give theological reasons for the work we do, that we think theologically about it and not just enthusiastically or despairingly. It’s important we discuss and pray together, and think about the work we do in the name of the church and in the name of God.
That trinitarian reference to the mission of God – being present, bearing witness and risking love – can be helpful as a means of understanding and critiquing our ministries.
When we make decisions about stories and photographs, about the placement on the front page of William Emilsen’s reflection on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, inclusion of Jessica Morthorpe’s accurate bushfire information and call to community action, support for an effective human services plan to accompany the government’s built environment master plan for the Waterloo redevelopment, recollection/celebration of the Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty project (connecting visitors with representatives from the local Indigenous Women’s Centre, the Settlement Community Centre, the Aboriginal Housing Company, the REDWatch activist group, architects, designers, and the Indigenous Social Justice Association) … we are striving to be faithful to our God – being present, bearing witness and risking love.
When cartoonist Norrie discovers a fresh angle/angel or means of commenting on urgent issues like housing, sustainable development, Aboriginal or eco-justice, Norrie gets very excited because a new opportunity has arisen to be present, to bear witness and risk love.
When faith editor Dorothy shares an experience of spiritual liberation or institutional lamentation – an experience with social and political implications – she rejoices in being present, bearing witness and risking love.
This month’s issue features several stories about the goodness of animals – Ruff Sleepers, the Cat Protection Society, photographer Sylvain Dubey’s image of the endangered Blue Mountains water skink.
We give thanks for non-human lives – their beauty, otherness – without which human existence (if even possible at all) would be bland and dull. We read these stories and give thanks for the lives of Rango and Finnegan, beloved companions, family members; we cherish their loving and humanising presence …
Paragraph 3.4. continues a reflection on Matthew 5: “Faith doesn’t entail our standing apart from the world, but requires that we help shape it. Faith doesn’t mean we can leave the difficult tasks and responsibilities to others, but requires that we take them on ourselves. Salvation ‘involves responding to the light of subjectivity in our neighbours, which in turn amounts to a conscious gesture of belonging’ (Mark Dooley).
“As students, teachers, environmental scientists, activists, retailers, doctors, lawyers, community workers and small business owners, we are called to be informed on the issues, to understand what our tradition teaches, to speak out, to insist that our elected officials take appropriate action, and so on.”
We may think sometimes that all we can do is care for ourselves; that caring for others is more than we can manage. Isaiah, however, was speaking to a people who had just returned from exile. They had to reconstruct their social and political world. They had a temple to rebuild and religious structures to put in place. It was to such a community that Isaiah delivered his message: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the imprisoned; tend the sick; bury the dead. Isaiah insisted that the exiles’ care of others was the condition of their own restoration.
Through the prophet, God says: “Your light will shine like the dawn – and your healing will break forth like lightning!”
Jesus blesses and commissions, affirms and trusts us, not to become something we are not, but to become who we really are – the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus says, “You are precious in the Earth, you are of use in the kindom of heaven.”
How might this blessing touch on our work this week and in coming weeks – as volunteers with the SSH and in all our striving to be present, to bear witness and risk love? … Amen.