Though the term “witness” is attached irrevocably to the exercise of religion, many Christians prefer to live like their fellow men and women in the world and ignore the import of the name Christian. The atheistic modern society would want Christians to change our beliefs to conform to the world and popular perceptions. The Bible, we’re told, is an archaic literature that no longer serves our time; so, we should overgrow reliance on an old creed and way of life. Many individual Christians and denominations have bought the lie and joined the rank and file of those who want to strip the world of godly moral values. But here comes Jesus today in his Sermon on the Mount instructing about our exalted position in relation to the world: “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.”
First, he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” What could our Lord be saying? Two things: one—salt adds flavor to our food and drinks. Imagine cooking an important meal with no salt. The food will taste bland and though it may look quite appetizing, it would not pass for a tasty dish. Two—before we learned to preserve our food in freezers and refrigerators, the ancients used salt for this purpose. For example, salt kept meat from going rotten, and in fact, the Greeks had a saying that salt was to a dead body like its soul. Salt was at a time the most important commodity in the world. Wars were fought for control of salt mines, and ancient Rome used salt to compensate its soldiers and even pay for commodities; hence, from the Latin word for salt salarium, we derive the term “salary.” These explanations are necessary to help unpack Jesus’ saying that we are the salt of the earth. Not only are we to give flavor to an insipid world as does salt to the dish, it is also our vocation to defeat the corruption of the world in the same manner that salt attacks dead meat. The flavor and purity of the Christian is so essential that people should be able to take a cue from us about nobility of life, and, like gallant soldiers, we’re to give the salt of protection to our society attacked by our vicious enemy—the devil. Our Lord is literally saying that if we fail to give flavor to the world, preserve moral virtues, retain godly values, and defend our spiritual borders, we are good for nothing. The world would trample on us; and unfortunately, it appears that’s where currently we are or the road to which we are dangerously heading.
Second, Jesus says “You are the light of the world.” He compares believers to Jerusalem, the city set on a hill. It’s a call to action, not words; to shine light, and not hide away. St. John Chrysostom was convinced that if we truly lived in imitation of Christ, obeyed God’s precepts, bore injuries without retaliation, rendered good for evil, blessed when we’re cursed, there’ll be no more pagan in the world. It is because of our failures to be light that the world is such a hateful place filled with the darkness of unbelief and Satanic lies.
Let us take as example St. John Henry Newman, who, illumined by Christ, prayed as follows: “Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and life. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let me look up and see no longer me but only Jesus! Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest, so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from Thee; none of it will be mine; it will be Thou shining on others through me. Let me thus praise Thee in the way Thou dost love best by shining on those around me. Let me preach Thee without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears Thee. Amen.”
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo