Being the Salt of the Earth and Being Salted with Fire
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There is the world that God created and looked upon and said - it is good. (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman. Then there is a system which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols. That system is also called the world in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to love that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion. We are to reject that system in order to free those enchained by its lies. The Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who live in Jesus Christ are sent on mission into the world in order to bring all men and women into the new world of the Church.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Our Gospel is from the account of St. Matthew. It follows the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is instructing the disciples on a new way of life:
"You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matt. 5:13-16)
We are called to bring the light into a world steeped in darkness. We are invited to be salt, in an age which has lost its flavor. Jesus used salt in his parables because salt was used in multiple ways which are not as common in our own experience. Salt was used to preserve and purify food as well as to flavor and to cure it. His hearers knew this.
In Marks Gospel (Mk. 9: 41 -50), the passage on being salt follows after Jesus admonished the disciples about avoiding temptations to sin. Mark has this additional line from Jesus: "Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another."
What did Jesus mean when He said we will be salted with fire? The Jerome Biblical Commentary, reflecting on the passage, notes, "Salt and fire suggest the purification the disciples will undergo through persecution and suffering."
The Venerable Bede suggested a further insight, "Everyone will be salted with fire, says Jesus, because spiritual wisdom must purify all the elect of any kind of corruption through carnal desire. Or he may be speaking of the fire of tribulation, which exercises the patience of the faithful to enable them to reach perfection"
Each of us is called to holiness. In an age which has rejected God and His Ways, we are invited to live differently. We are given the grace we need to do so. We must choose to say yes to both. This choice and way of life will offend some seduced by self worship. Because of that, we will be salted with fire, we will face struggle as we seek to live the Gospel. That kind of struggle comes from the outside.
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However, there is another kind of struggle. It takes place on the inside. We struggle within as we seek to cooperate with grace and thereby grow in holiness. There is an internal resistance to the transforming work of God's grace. We deal with what the Catholic Tradition calls concupiscence.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
"St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. (1 John 2:16) In the Catholic catechetical tradition, the ninth commandment forbids carnal concupiscence; the tenth forbids coveting another's goods."
Etymologically, "concupiscence" can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason.
The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the "flesh" against the "spirit." (Cf. Gal 5:16,17,24; Eph 2:3) Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins."(CCC #2514, 2515)
In a compilation of his homilies entitled Friends of God, St. Jose Maria Escriva prays:
"May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it." (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
The Father still loves the world. (John 3: 16) He continues to send His Son into the world to save it. Jesus now walks into the world through His Body, the Church, of which we are members. As Christians we are called to love the world as God loves the world. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Church used to describe the Church was - the world reconciled. The Second Vatican Council used this phrase and reaffirmed another Patristic Image of the Church, as a seed of the kingdom.
Some of the confusion concerning our relationship to the world arises from the remnant of one of the early heresies in Christian history called Manichaeism. The followers of that error believed that matter was evil. That is NOT a Christian belief. We profess in our Creed a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth!
Yet this error of viewing matter as evil - and the world, by extension, as a place to be avoided - still infects. It can lead to a kind ghetto mentality whereby Christians withdraw from the world. Some of the confusion arises out of the differing ways the phrase - the world - is used in the New Testament. Let me explain.
There is the world that God created and looked upon and said - it is good. (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman.
Then there is a system which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols. That system is also called the world in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to love that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion. We are to reject that system in order to free those enchained by its lies.
The Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those who live in Jesus Christ are sent on mission into the world in order to bring all men and women into the new world of the Church.
We are invited to become salty Christians who bring the flavor of God's Love and Life into a world which has lost its flavor and gone flat. We also help to prevent the further decay. The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from the life of God within us.
Along with the metaphor of salt, Jesus also used leaven or yeast in His parables. For example, "Again he said, "To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened." (Luke 13: 18 - 21)
It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough.
Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.
Leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. Salt also can become useless. That leaven must be in the dough to effect its extraordinary change. That salt must be sprinkled. We must be in the world to effect its transformation.
We are invited to help to bring the world back to the God who created it - and is re-creating it in and through His Son Jesus Christ. This mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it begins one person, one grain, at a time.
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