I love this idea from Jesus that we, his followers, are meant to be like salt. (Matt 13-16) A little bit of salt is in almost all our food nowadays but, of course, because it is just about the right amount, we never notice it. We only notice salt if some cook has put too much in by mistake. Then we go “Ugh” and won’t eat it. Nowadays we are told that too much salt is actually bad for us, but no salt is not good for us either; and in the world in the time of Jesus that was the danger – that the salt ran out or lost its taste. Most of us have never experienced food without salt, and so we have no idea how dull that would be, or how bad it would be if essential salts and minerals were missing from our diet.
So it was this that Jesus was getting at when he said we must be like salt; for he says, “If salt becomes tasteless… it is good for nothing.” We are meant to make the world a brighter better tastier place. Jesus looked at the religious people of his day and condemned them, because their religion was all about telling other people what to do, rather than helping them to be better human beings. These religious people were called Pharisees. They taught people that they must be absolutely perfect, that they must keep every tiny commandment of God, or they would not be loved by God. Jesus makes it quite clear what he thinks of them. He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven…. you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. (See Matt 23:13-29)
Now this doesn’t mean that we can just do what we like. Jesus calls us to a different kind of perfection – a life in which we offer God’s love and mercy to other people – without implying that we are better than them, without imposing on them burdens that drag them down rather than lift them up. Like salt, we are not meant to go around being too obviously religious, to be, as we just heard, like whitewashed tombs. Somehow we have to be close to God in a way that draws people to God, rather than driving them away.
So how can we be more like that? How can we be salty without overdoing it? Surely part of the answer must be prayer, because it is only as we open up to God, only as we admit our own failings, our own need for God, that we can then be more open to others. Prayer, above all, means awareness of all that God has done and is doing for us, even in the midst of difficulties and setbacks. We hear St Paul speaking like this in his Letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 2:1-5) They lived in the city of Corinth in Greece, which rather like our world, was full of show and glamour, where people were admired for being clever with words – all on the surface again. So Paul writes : “When I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy.. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’.. I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.”
So being salty means being close to God, being aware of God’s power, even in the midst of our own failings and weaknesses. Our Gospel today goes on to tell us to be like light to the world. But if the light that we try to share with the world is our own light then it will eventually go out, like a candle that has burnt right down. In another place Jesus tells us to have enough oil for our lamps. We might translate that into our modern world by saying that we need to regularly recharge our batteries, because if we don’t, the light goes out, the mobile phone stops working. It is so essential that we keep plugged into God, so that the light we show to others does not come from us but is the light of God’s presence, the light of Christ.
That is why we gather as the Church to pray. Of course we pray by ourselves as well, but the gathered Church is like a Power Station where God has promised to be present in a special way, in one another, and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion blessed by the priest. This is the place where we can recharge our batteries, and find the saltiness to go out into the world and bring God’s love and mercy, his message of salvation, to others.