Who Will Preserve the Essentials?

Sermon on the Mount: Week 2

Who Will Preserve the Essentials?
Friday, February 9, 2018

Jesus says that the people who live these happinesses, these Beatitudes, will be “the salt of the earth” (see Matthew 5:13). For ancient people, salt was an important preservative, seasoning, and symbol of healing. What does Jesus mean by such an image?

First, he’s not saying that those who live this way are going to heaven. He is saying that they will be gift for the earth. We think of Jesus’ teaching as prescriptions for getting to heaven (even though we haven’t followed them). Instead, the Sermon on the Mount is a set of descriptions of a free life.

Jesus’ moral teaching is very often a description of the final product rather than a detailed process for getting there. When you can weep, when you can identify with the little ones, when you can make peace, when you can be persecuted and still be joyful . . . then you’re doing it right. He is saying, as it were, this is what holiness looks like. When you act this way, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned about control, enforcement, or uniformity. His priority is proclamation, naming, and revealing. Then he trusts that good-willed people and a reliable God will take it from there.

“If salt becomes tasteless, how can we salt the world with it?” asks Jesus (see Matthew 5:13). That message seems especially true today. If Christians—Jesus’ self-proclaimed followers—no longer believe the Gospel, if we no longer believe in nonviolence and powerlessness, then who’s going to convert us? We’re supposed to be the leaven of the world, yet if we no longer believe in the Gospel, what hope do we have of offering anything new to anyone?

Finally, Jesus says, “You are light for the world; a city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14-15). Our job is to be a shining truth, to live the truth as best we can, and let it fall where it may. “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better” is one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s core principles.

Jesus is telling his disciples, “I’ve given you a great truth. I want you to hold the light and the leaven in the middle of the world. As light or leaven it will do its work, and God’s purposes will be achieved.” What a relaxed and patient trust Jesus has in God!

Jesus is quite content, it seems, with such a humble position. He enters the imperial city from a place of powerlessness. His Sermon on the Mount has to do with an alternative understanding and strategy of power. Jesus is leading us to participate in God’s power, which to us feels like powerlessness.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 142-145.

Image credit: Les victimes de la mer. Douleur (The Victims of the Sea. Grief [detail]), by Charles Cottet, 1909, Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them. —Matthew 5:7
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