The Readings for the Memorial of St Barnabas, Apostle
Tuesday in the 10th week of Ordinary Time (C1)
You are the salt of the earth…
We are used to hearing this phrase, “salt of the earth” as it might refer to good, solid farmers, or blue-collar laborers, Midwestern voters, etc, salt of the earth types. But that’s not how Jesus uses it here. He’s speaking at a time when salt was literally currency in some parts of the world. To control the salt was a mark of cultural control. The Celts, for example, controlling Salzburg – “Salt City” – became quite wealthy selling salt to much of the world. You are the salt of the earth means “something everyone will want to take…”
Salt is one flavor that is most noticed by its absence. In fact, it might better be said that salt is less an option and more of a needed part of everything. It goes in coffee, ice cream, candy, meat, vegetables, tea… but when it’s not that we say, “needs salt” very quickly. Jesus uses other images for us as well: yeast, which only takes a pinch to leaven a whole batch of dough, for example. In a few verses, he will compare us to a candle: you only need to light one, and the whole room is lit up propper. Chewing tobacco, too, “only takes a pinch between your cheek and gum…” (I think some readers will be old enough to get that reference.)
We notice too, that the tiny band of twelve men preaching the Gospel has given rise to the ideas of “health care”, “liberty”, “women owning property”, “care for the weakest”, “peace activism”, “temperance”. Later they will give us things like “democracy”, “genetics”, “the big bang theory”, and “the scientific method”. It only takes a pinch… Likewise, we notice when it’s missing: when things like “turn the other cheek” go out the door and we enter a society of name calling and recrimination from the halls of Washington Power to the aisles of Wal*Mart.
The problem actually is that folks want the results without the work, the freedom without the responsibility. In the story of the Crucifixion, Jesus has a seamless garment which tradition says was woven by his Mother. One traditional reading of this symbol set is that Mary was sinless and she passed a sinless human nature to her Son. To the Roman soldiers, however, it’s just a cool shirt and they want it. So they play dice to see who wins it. The goods and graces of the faith are really meaningless in the hands of those who would just want to wear them as cool clothes. A man in a clerical shirt may not be a priest if it’s Halloween and even a priest tried to give St Catherine an unconsecrated host for communion. They want to take the consecrated ones for politics, or for art. (The ones who want to take it for desecration at least know the consecrated host is holy.) They want to take buildings for museums and vestments to feed “the poor”. In the last case, they want to rob the poor of their existential hope in God and his Church by giving the state the power and funds to distribute charity.)
We are the salt of the world: our purpose is to flavor everything, to take out the bitterness, to make everything better. We don’t need to be the most popular religion in the world. That we are and yet fail to make a continuing change, says more about us than about our faith. The world, however, thinks it says something about Jesus and his Gospel. So they want to take the Gospel from us and do it themselves. That makes it worse.
If we were doing what we were supposed to be doing, would we be in this situation?