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.
Matthew 5: 13
Jesus summons his disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The Master who calls us to be as little children and to take the last place, on the other hand, calls us to radiate light and give flavor to the world. To our way of thinking these injunctions of Jesus appear contradictory. In fact, however, they are precisely complementary. For to be small and humble does not mean that we are not gifted and to fail to recognize that God has gifted us for the sake of the world. In fact, such recognition and appreciation is precisely the nature of humility. St. Francis de Sales points out that the “real way of attaining to the love of God is by a careful consideration of all God’s benefits given to us . . . the better we realize these the more we shall love God. . . . There is no fear that a perception of what God has given you will puff you up, so long as you keep steadily in mind that whatever is good in you is not of yourself.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, III, 5)
It is not humility, says Francis, to fail to consider, and one might add generously offer to the world, the gifts God has bestowed on us. As Jesus says in Matthew 10: 8, what we have freely received we are to freely give. In fact, today Jesus tells us that if we do not give the gifts we have been given so that we are truly “the salt of the earth,” then we are “no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
These days many in the world are eagerly anticipating the encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment and climate change. Recently a group of Catholics from the United States went to the Vatican in an attempt to influence the Vatican’s view by arguing that there was no proof that human beings were responsible for global warming. It is a somewhat strange argument for people of faith that we, as human beings, who realize that everything we have and are, including our entire world, is a gift from God, do not bear responsibility for the effects on the earth, and so on all other human beings, of our way of using and abusing creation. Lest any of us become self-righteous, however, we must all acknowledge that most of us tend to live in the world and to use its resources mindless of the effects of our actions. Somehow we as Christians have largely lost our sense of stewardship and responsibility for our world, despite the fact that we frequently proclaim, in the words of Psalm 24: 1, that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” In the witness of a voluntary simplicity and poverty, and in our responsibility to the earth and its current and future inhabitants, we Christians should be the light that points to the distinctively human way of living that, as salt, flavors and preserves creation. So often, however, we without reflecting live a life of unnecessary consumption and waste that fails to live in awareness of and gratitude for God’s gift of life and world to all.
Today, Jesus issues to all of us who claim to be his disciples a powerful and even frightening challenge. He tells us that if we fail to be the salt and light we are called to be, we are good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled. The world-wide response to Pope Francis manifests that when we are salt and light, we can truly season and enlighten the world. When we are not, then, perhaps rightly, the world merely not only disregards us but even throws us out and tramples us underfoot.
Obviously the sense of the “holiness of life” is not compatible with an exploitive economy. You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility. And many if not most Christian organizations now appear to be perfectly at peace with the military-industrial economy and its “scientific” destruction of life. Surely, if we are to remain free and if we are to remain true to our religious inheritance we must maintain a separation between church and state. But if we are to maintain any sense or coherence or meaning in our lives, we cannot tolerate the present utter disconnection between religion and economy. By “economy” I do not mean “economics,” which is the study of money-making, but rather the ways of human housekeeping, the ways by which the human household is situated and maintained within the household of nature. To be uninterested in economy is to be uninterested in the practice of religion; it is to be uninterested in culture and in character. Probably the most urgent question now faced by people who would adhere to the Bible is this: What sort of economy would be responsible to the holiness of life? What, for Christians, would be the economy, the practices, and the restraints, of “right livelihood”? I do not believe that organized Christianity now has any idea. I think its idea of a Christian economy is no more or less than the industrial economy—which is an economy firmly founded on the seven deadly sins and the breaking of all ten of the Ten Commandments. Obviously, if Christianity is going to survive as more than a respecter and comforter of profitable iniquities, then Christians, regardless of their organizations, are going to have to interest themselves in economy—which is to say, in nature and in work. They are going to have to give workable answers to those who say we cannot live without this economy that is destroying us and our world, who see the murder of Creation as the only way of life.
Wendell Berry, Christianity and the Survival of Creation in The Art of the Commonplace, p. 309.