After I read today’s scripture passages, I quickly turned to the journal I kept during our recent trip to the Holy Land. Jesus’ insistence that his disciples were the salt of the earth and the light of the world elicited fond memories of our Israeli guide. As I read through my notes, I pictured Yossi who insisted upon many things throughout our stay. Beside the standard directives, Yossi insisted that we pray. He insisted that we must pray for peace among the Israeli people because we can pray and he cannot. Yossi was raised in a communist kibbutz where God was never mentioned. So it was, Yossi insisted, that he never learned to pray. Later, Yossi observed that many of his countrymen and woman who do acknowledge God in their lives focus upon a vindictive and punishing God. Yossi insisted that this deity must be replaced by the compassionate and merciful God of Jesus. This seemed to be a surprising assessment from a self-proclaimed non-believer. This comment offered one of many indications that Yossi might not be the secular Israeli he claimed to be.
Throughout our stay, Yossi introduced us to many Jewish, Muslim and Christian acquaintances who exhibited a similar desire for unity. We found that Israelis who practice no faith at all desire unity within their nation as well. Yossi insisted repeatedly that Jesus’ influence is needed to achieve peace among his people. With that end in mind, Yossi reiterated his request that that we pray in full earnest for his country and its neighbors. Every time Yossi did this, I marveled at his faith in our tiny band of travelers. This is the reason Yossi came to mind when I read today’s gospel. Through all of his insistence, Yossi echoed Jesus’ sentiments regarding our value in the grand scheme of things. Apparently, Yossi saw us as the salt of the earth and the light of the world just as Jesus saw his followers.
It was when we neared the Mount of the Beatitudes that Yossi read from Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel. He began at the beginning by listing the Beatitudes before going on to today’s verses regarding salt and light. Yossi reminded us that salt was an extremely valuable commodity in Jesus’ day. Soldiers were often paid their wages in salt. Salt was the only means to preserve food at the time and it was a popular means to flavor food. Salt was even used to seal dirt roofs to protect them from the rain. Light was another matter. Though the sun could be scorching by day, its reflection in the night moon provided perfect light for traveling from place to place in desert conditions. The tiny oil lamps used in Jesus’ day assaulted the darkness with their small, but mighty glow. Yes, salt and light were extremely valuable and important commodities in the lives of Jesus’ contemporaries. Jesus knew exactly what he was saying when he called his disciples the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:13-15) tells us that when Jesus spoke to the crowds on the mount that day, he offered these promises, “Blest are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blest are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blest are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…” Jesus listed eight conditions which the world viewed as suffering and then he insisted that the best of God’s blessings would be given in response to each one. After offering these guarantees for happiness to the crowds, Jesus turned to his disciples to insist further, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” Jesus challenged his closest friends to be the salt which would enrich those around them and the light which would guide those who couldn’t yet see the path which led to God. Jesus left no uncertainty regarding how this would be accomplished. Once again, Jesus used his most insistent voice to say, “…your light must shine before others.” Jesus knew that when the people experienced the salt and light which his disciples offered, they would take God’s offer of peace, mercy and compassion to heart.
I admit that I found Yossi’s ongoing insistence that we pray and that we share our God to be quite a challenge. Though I’d prayed seemingly forever, I had left my own country in turmoil and I didn’t expect things to be much better upon my return. The disciples’ trepidation filled me up every time Yossi insisted upon our help. How could any of us be the salt and the light which the Holy Land needs, which our own country needs, which those suffering far more than we so desperately need? Still, Yossi persisted just as Jesus did. In the end, Jesus reassured his followers with his insistence and his faith in them as he sent them on their way. Yossi reassured me and my fellow travelers by insisting, “You can do it!” God reassures each one of us with the same. Whenever we are salt or light, God sends us out with the hopeful insistence that we will transform our world one loving deed at a time.
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