Salinity and luminosity

Published 6:54 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2020

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By Scott Baker

The gospel appointed for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany is from the fifth chapter of Matthew and makes up a portion of the sermon on the mount. We hear Jesus saying to all those gathered on the mountain side, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world.” It’s curious that he didn’t say, “You are pepper of the earth.” Pepper, unlike salt, wants to be noticed. It wants to be center stage in the dish. Salt, on the other hand, wants to bring out the other flavors. We put salt in a dish in order to taste the other flavors, not to overshadow them.

I remember growing up on our small farm in North Carolina, my dad would pick a watermelon and then slice it and then, proceed to put salt on it before he ate it. At the time, it seemed absolutely disgusting to me. I asked him why he did it and he simply said, “It makes it sweeter.” For years I resisted the urge to follow his example, although once I did, I can’t imagine eating a slice of watermelon without a little salt sprinkled on it.

One of my favorite translations of the Bible is Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” Peterson translates the passage regarding salt and light in the following way. Jesus said, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage … Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.”

There are those in our world who shine brightly with some sort of inner luminosity. They make a profound impact in other people’s lives, in their communities and in the world. If you and I were to ask them what their secret is, they’re more apt than not to be confused at the question. They are just doing what comes naturally to them. In The Book of Common Prayer we have a wonderful prayer that captures this sentiment, “Almighty and everlasting God, we yield unto thee most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all thy saints, who have been the choice vessels of thy grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations.” These are those who shone brightly and thus enabled others to see the divine and holy in the world around them.

One might ask, “How can I be more filled with salt or light?” I’m not sure there is one particular pathway to be filled with either of those things. However, I do believe if we attempt to be less focused on ourselves, less concerned with our wants and needs, in short, more selfless, that might just be the first step. To dedicate one’s life to being more kind, gentle, faithful, compassionate and loving is, I’m certain, the stones that pave the path toward being the salt of the earth and the lights of the world.

Who knows, when we get to the end, one might describe us as, “the light of the world in our generation.”

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.