Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12) • Psalm 112:1-9 (10) • 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 (13-16) • Matthew 5:13-20
This week's gospel takes a surprising turn. In the previous verses, Jesus has been comforting folks, reminding them that they are blessed precisely to the extent that they have been living humbly, peacefully, and purely. Suddenly, the tone of his sermon on the mountain shifts to one of challenge. He begins telling the gathered group that they are the salt of the earth. Then he is asking them, what good is salt, if it loses its saltiness?
What good indeed. If a person waters down all that makes her an individual, what use is she? Last night I cooked supper for a family group including one of my daughters, who is about to have a child. Laughing, I asked her how she wanted it seasoned, given that pregnancy can make a person have very particular food preferences. Lots of garlic, she replied, lots of garlic. And I must admit, the meal was good, very good.
In cooking this meal, I was more interested in pleasing my daughter than in following my usual cooking style, or the wishes of anyone else joining us for supper. Accommodating her was what mattered. Overall, though, this interest in pleasing others can create problems. A person can tamp down on some personal way of being – one's own seasoning, call it – in the interest of making others happy. Letting others have it their way sometimes seems worth the loss of self. It can keep the peace, when one holds back. On a temporary basis, that is.
It is an uneasy peace, built on falsity, when one is hiding parts of oneself. While it may seem "humble," squelching self is far from true humility. The harder road here is being true to oneself and representing one's own ideas, in a mature, respectful way. Just as keeping table salt dry is essential, maintaining one's own inner salt involves thoughtful reflection. Salt as a seasoning is treasured because of how it brings out all the flavors in a dish. The metaphor invites each of us to bring all our gifts to the table, fully synthesized.
When a person can be herself, it offers a light to the world in which reality is understood more clearly and wholly. Moreover, the inner freedom that comes with being herself also gets communicated to others. A light is shed; an interest, a curiosity, a respect for the views of others is expressed. In this atmosphere, people have a larger opportunity to connect in viable ways.
The Isaiah reading brings these ideas to the test. Here, the question in verse seven is regarding what makes a true fast: Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? It seems to me that a family must think this through over time – their responsibility to (not for!) others and how they as a group will deal with these duties. When the duties involve a family member, the question becomes how a family can have difficult conversations, rather than hiding from each other. Family leaders are, by definition, those with enough salt to be present with their own kin and enough light to calm everyone down.
Morning: How can I bring light to my work? To my family? When might my salt get watered down?
Evening: What was difficult about sharing my own ideas today? How hard was it to be curious about what others were thinking?