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Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

April 12, 2014

3911LgThere is something truly divine about the way our Lord took the most common and simple ingredients of life and transformed them into lenses through which Christians could see the world and their role in it anew. Salt was already an integral part of world civilization whose value has been acknowledged throughout the history of mankind. Without salt, there could be no ritual meal to seal a covenant. Without salt, no savory sacrifices among ancient peoples could be made to bring propitiation for sins. Without salt, the great caravan routes in the East would not have been trodden. Without salt, the health of people and animals would be compromised. Without salt, food can become tasteless and even worse spoiled before it can be consumed.

Among all these rich associations surrounding this most essential mineral, the Lord Christ especially focuses upon salt as a seasoning and a preservative in comparing His disciples to it. According to Origen, “the rest of humanity can be conceived of as the earth, and believers are the salt, because the earth is preserved because of their belief” (Commentary on Saint John, Book 6, chapter 38). The faith of the Christian should enhance whatever is good and nourishing in the world and preserve it by infusing it with the divine life that Christ brought to this world. That inward faith is to be expressed outwardly through loving compassion, selfless concern for others, and all the virtues encompassed by the Beatitudes. As Saint John Chrysostom remarked, “one should be useful not only to oneself, but also to many others. Christ declared this plainly when He called us salt… Again salt is not an astringent to itself, but braces up those parts of the body which have been wounded and prevents them from decomposing and perishing” (Homily on those who had not attended the assembly).

To be the salt of the earth, then, is to be a healing presence, a preserving presence, and a seasoning presence among our brothers and sisters, whom ever they may be. Not that we are saviors. There is only one Savior. Again Saint John Chrysostom makes this clear when he wrote about the Apostles as the salt of the earth: “Did they restore the decayed? By no means, for it is not possible to do any good to that which is already spoiled by sprinkling salt on it. Rather, they salted that which had already been restored, committed to their charge, and freed from that ill savor, so that those souls might maintain and preserve the freshness that they had received from the Lord. To be set free from the rottenness of sins was the good work of Christ, but to no longer return to it again was the purpose of the apostles’ diligence and travail” (Homily 15 on Matthew).

The sacred task of preserving Christ’s salvific work requires not only diligence and travail, but also watchfulness and vigilance as Saint Cyprian of Carthage notes in his comments on this Gospel passage. The value of salt is in its use where it is needed and when it is needed. Thus, Saint Cyprian writes, “Persecution and direct attacks are not the only sources of fear that can overwhelm and cast down the servants of God. In fact, caution is easier where danger is obvious, and the mind is prepared in advance for the struggle. The enemy is more to be feared and to be guarded against, when he creeps on us secretly; when, deceiving by the appearance of peace, he steals forward by hidden approaches… And so we are to foresee dangers lest we be caught in the nets of death on account of our lack of caution, that we may possess the immortality that we have received. But how can we possess immortality, unless we keep those commands of Christ whereby death is driven out and overcome, when He Himself warns us, and says, ‘If you will enter into life, keep the commandments?’ (Matthew 19:17)… Finally, these persons He calls strong and steadfast; these He declares to be founded in robust security upon the rock, established with immoveable and unshaken firmness, in opposition to all the tempests and hurricanes of the world” (On the Unity of the Church). So that one’s spiritual saltiness might not lose its savor, it is necessary to be aware not only of obvious and hidden temptations and dangers, but also to keep in mind the sure way to overcome them through obedience to Christ and His teachings.

To become indeed the Salt of the Earth, we must become people of faith and people of action. As Christ “came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion” (Mark 6:34), we need to see where we can enhance the lives of others and preserve them in goodness. Through diligence and travail, through watchfulness and vigilance, we are to preserve the sacred deposit of Faith in our hearts. Ultimately, the possibility of becoming the salt of the earth is given to us through Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Cross and Resurrection. Through the Pascal Victory may we truly become as salt, white as snow with respect to sin and as translucent as glass with respect to the grace of God, preserving and seasoning the earth.

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