I was reading the Gospel of Matthew a couple of days ago, and read the passage where Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:13, 14)
Somehow I had always associated those words with the end of Jesus’ ministry, and assumed he was talking to his closest friends, the disciples who were about to start the Church.
But, according to the chronology of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks these words to a large crowd of folks during his Sermon on the Mount, right at the beginning of his ministry. Matthew, the author of the gospel, hadn’t even been called by Jesus yet!
Jesus had just finished healing a large number of people who had been afflicted with all sorts of diseases and struggles that would have left them on the margins of society. Matthew writes that these folks followed Jesus, and we can assume that they made up a large portion of the crowd to which Jesus was speaking. He started his sermon with the Beatitudes, proclaiming that the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted were the most blessed in the Kingdom.
And then, immediately after healing people who had experienced deep pain and marginalization, and telling them that they were The Blessed Ones, he tells them that they are the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. He tells them not to lose their saltiness, or hide their light.
In my experience in communities like The Dale and Sanctuary, it is absolutely true that folks who have suffered the most are the saltiest and brightest.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who is wonderfully wise, and struggles mightily with an addiction to alcohol. She said to me, “I’m so weak…but His strength is made perfect in my weakness. He’s blessed me with nice people like you and Erinn, and I turn my back. But He never turns his back on me… I think about you a lot, you know. How is your family doing?”
A week or so later, I was speaking with another friend who is in chronic pain and struggles to make ends meet. At first he was focused on his pain, but then transitioned into an amazing mini-sermon about how it all comes down to love, how we need to listen to God even when it hurts, how it’s important to be a giver not just a taker, and how we need to learn to see the good in other people even when it’s not readily visible.
Another friend adopted a cat many years ago who wasn’t expected to live for very long, due to a variety of ailments. My friend has cared tenderly for this cat that would likely have otherwise been put down. He sat cuddling his beloved pet the other day, and the image was too beautiful not to capture. He told me I could share it with you.
While Jesus is the ultimate Salt and Light, he makes it pretty clear (all throughout the gospels) that people on the margins are uniquely blessed with the ability to display his saltiness and brightness. I am so grateful for my friends who are constantly reminding me of this deep theological truth.