Salt and Light
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus says that Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And he has harsh things to say about Christians who are dark and insipid. They’re fit for nothing except being trampled under foot, he says. And you know what he means. When the dark wintry streets are dangerous with ice and snow, the city puts salt on the roads, and all the traffic crunches over it.
Given that sort of threat, who wouldn’t want to know what it means to be salt and light for the world?
Well, here’s something to notice. Salt and light share a funny characteristic. Each of them is discernible by sense perception—we taste salt, and we see light—but neither of them is usually meant to be a direct or main object of perception. Nobody makes salt for dinner. We put salt on the chicken, but the chicken is the dinner. The chicken tastes better if we salt it; and enjoying the chicken, not the salt, is what we are after. Light is like this, too. We turn on a light not in order to look at the light, but in order to look at other things by means of the light.
So if a Christian is the light of the world, he is enabling the world to see something other than himself. And what Jesus goes on to say makes it clear that this something else is in fact the Lord. A Christian is to let his light shine in such a way that the people of the world glorify God. The worldly people couldn’t glorify God if God were in darkness for them. So a Christian’s life is to shine in such a way that what the people of the world see is the Lord.
The image of salt is similar. If a Christian is the salt of the earth, he makes something else appeal to the taste of the people of the earth. And that will be God too. The earthly people will savor the goodness of God when Christians are the salt of the earth.
So to be light and salt is to live our lives in such a way that the earthly people and the worldly people are drawn to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
It’s a challenge, isn’t it?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University