Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Be Salt and Light

An excerpt from Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation, Chapter Ten

 ". . . Rejoice, be glad, and get to work: be salt and light, and let your light shine. Matthew ends his collection of Jesus' wisdom sayings on a high note, with a promise of rejoicing with God. And then he adds a few lines of instruction to the invitation, words that serve as a bridge to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world...let your light shine."

Jesus' first listeners knew that salt was necessary for life, a notion reinforced by the many references in the Hebrew Scriptures to salt's essential nature. Thus the prophet Elisha sprinkled salt into the spring at Jericho to purify the water (2 Kings 2:21.)  To eat salt with another person was a sign of loyalty, sort of a passing of the peace pipe, a breaking of bread, a sign of commonality (Numbers 18:19.)  Priests strew salt on sacrifices, and seasoned incense with salt. Parents rubbed salt all over their newborn baby's body as protection against all kinds of ills (Ezekiel 16:4.)

Salt is basic. When I was a child and heard my parents say that someone was "the salt of the earth," I knew they were giving the ultimate compliment: that these were solid citizens, loyal, trustworthy, brave, God-fearing people (and probably Scandinavian Lutherans too!) Salt was something we understood. And when I heard the words about "salt of the earth" in Sunday School, I knew it was nothing exotic like the other things that turned up in the bible; this was not frankincense or myrrh, this was plain old table salt, the round blue box sitting on the back of the kitchen stove. Salt was regular, not fancy; salt for everyday, not just company. If we were to be like salt, it meant we were to be useful.

But salt doesn't work alone. It preserves, it adds flavor, it zests things up. It changes the soil, the water, the function of the human body.  For salt to work, it must be used withsomething. To be a disciple, Jesus is saying, is to be like salt, mixed right into the middle of life, adding some zest and making a difference.

And light is like salt. Like salt, light is essential for life and growth. It illumines things, and brings the hidden into view. Light is measured by what it does, by how it changes its environs.

In these words about salt and light, Jesus is telling his disciples that they must be effective. They must change their surroundings.

Glen Stassen says that this expression about salt is intended to praise the distinctive witness of the ascetic Qumran community of Jesus' day who lived by the Dead Sea and made table salt by evaporating the salty waters of that sea. "They were indeed a right salty community," Stassen writes [in Living the Sermon on the Mount,] "They were definitely different from the world and its compromises."

We, too, are to be "different from the world." Indeed, the beatitudes are a description of a way of living quite distinct from the prevailing practices of economic and political injustice. But being different is not enough. Jesus praises the Essenes at Qumran, but also adds a bit of a dig: that difference must be seen; that light cannot be hidden "under a bushel" where none can see it. The problem with the Qumran community, Stassen says, was that they kept themselves hidden down by the Dead Sea, living in retreat from the world. The followers of Jesus cannot be separatists; they must be the ones who show up in the dark places of the world and light it up with the compassion of God. . . .we are the ones called to expand the church beyond stained glass and stone walls."

Echoes from the Edge

The Blessing of Honest Prayer

By Neichelle Guidry Jones, 2013-14 Beatitudes Fellow - February 4th, 2014

As I do every year, I spent New Years Day meditating and praying alone. I had to confess to God that I didn't have a name for my year, I didn't have a vision board with a clear vision, and that I felt as if this would be a year of breaking away from things and relationships that I had come to love. I had to confess to God that I felt that this was going to be a year of making hard decisions and necessary transitions, all of which would cost me many lonely hours and long nights. And although I eventually lifted my supplications, I had to begin by being honest about my concerns.

Oh, the blessing of honest prayer.

In response, I was reminded of the many times that I've given something up only to be given something greater. I was reminded of the many long nights that have been followed by beautiful and abundant days. I was reminded of the many seasons during which I felt stuck in the middle of my past and my future, and on nothing but hope and faith, I moved forward into what I believed lied ahead. So, I didn't ring in 2014 with bells and whistles. But, I also didn't ring it with tears and sorrow. I'm in the middle.

And, there is grace for the middle. It is the grace by which Jesus restored the son of a man who had been through so much that in honesty, he had to ask Jesus to "help his unbelief." It is the grace by which Jesus called Bartimaeus forward to receive his sight, thereby enabling him to see the beauty of creation. It is the grace by which Jesus called each of his first disciples to follow him, when their lives could have gone in any direction.

I recognize this grace as hope: that divine gift that pulls you forward when what is behind you will no longer suffice, and when what is before you is the experience of abundant life that Christ promised to each of us. And by this grace, I name 2014 the "year of boundless hope."

Finally, the Poet

Dawn Revisited

By Rita Dove - February 4th, 2014

Imagine you wake up

with a second chance: The blue jay

hawks his pretty wares

and the oak still stands, spreading

glorious shade. If you don't look back,

the future never happens.

How good to rise in sunlight,

in the prodigal smell of biscuits--

eggs and sausage on the grill.

The whole sky is yours

to write on, blown open

to a blank page. Come on,

shake a leg! You'll never know

who's down there, frying those eggs,

if you don't get up and see.

Taken with permission from the blog of the Beatitudes Society.