In the middle east, you know, where Jesus did most of his work in the first century, the idea of the three elements of salt, light, and earth has a slightly different meaning.
Earth could very well be a reference to an oven here, not so grandiose as an entire planet. In those ancient cultures, ovens were made out of dirt, or clay. If you've ever had Kaluah Pork, you know just how delicious an earthen oven can make the meat taste. These earthen ovens still exist today, and their fuel source is a combination of a fire started with salt.
What middle eastern cultures would do is use these ovens to heat dung bricks, (or piles of crap) to bake them to be used as a building material, or a heat source that wasn't direct flame. There's a lovely restaurant in Rochester where you can cook your own meat on a hot rock at your table. I think its kind of silly to pay for your own cooking if you're going out for dinner, but that's just me. I prefer their Barbacoa Polenta. Now, that's a tangent! Back to the topic.
When we hear Jesus talking about us as the salt of the earth, he's not just telling us we make the world tasty or savory. He's implying that we can be the root of a new fire, and build something unknown to humanity previous to His arrival. Jesus is telling us that we have some simple elements ourselves that can be used to build God's kingdom.
These simple things are prescribed in the first reading.
Isaiah tells us:
"Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own."
The prophet then goes on to say,
"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn..."
Our idea of building the kingdom of God has been the same for over 4 millennia. These simple things of feeding hungry, providing shelter, clothes, and loving your neighbor as yourself have been the central pillars to Judeo Christian heritage for what seems like forever.
So once we do the work of keeping our salt fresh through these good works, we begin the cycle of spiritual living. We take it upon ourselves to be the salt that starts the fire (read: light) and heats the pile of crap that is our lives into something for the benefit of the Kingdom. Jesus is the master of these symbols, yet how often do we stop to think about our own experiences?
We may feel crappy because our job is soul-sucking. We may experience depression because we don't see our world getting better. We can usually point the finger at something beyond ourselves as a reason for our misfortunes. The reality is, WE ARE SALT, and we only need to encounter the LIGHT of Christ to break forth into a beautiful light for the world. Here are some significant examples.
Recently, Pope Francis converted one 19th-century palace into a homeless shelter. That is building something of real value and being light for the world. Also recently, I heard a story of 6 couples who gave their names to Planned Parenthood. These couples asked the clinic to connect them with women who were seeking abortions. The objective was to feed, clothe, shelter, and nurture the mothers, so they felt inclined to carry their babies to full term. Those couples are a light in the darkness. They are the vessels made of clay. The fire of hope breaks forth from their actions. We should all strive to be just as Christ-like as them.
No matter our circumstances, we can choose to be the salt of the earth and build something that brings glory to God, even if that something is made from a pile of crap. We are the ones who value human dignity, and living those values will proceed us to living a life worthwhile.
Let's share our bread. Let's clothe the naked, lets shelter the homeless, and the sun will rise once more.
This weekend, I find " Share your bread with the Hungry" to be an appropriate mediation or prelude.