Saint Kinga’s Chapel, Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland, rights here.
“13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5 13-16
This passage lends itself to so many 21st century interpretations. The ‘messy church’ types translate this passage as as an exhortation to ‘shake things up’. That’s always worked. Where I live, ‘shaking things up’ quite often ends with a fight or an arrest…. however, we are still allowed to have street preachers, Deo Gratias.
I get tired of people who shake things up. The latest incarnation of this is a grown-up feminist ‘activist’ whose reaction to criticism is to liberally use the f-word. That’s not what adults do. I get tired of reading about Femen and its imitators. I get mostly tired of campaigners whose stunts are essentially capitalist – procured and managed by professionals. ‘Shock-value’ has become commodified and loses its shock and value.
And again, ‘shaking things up’ in the Church is now about forty years old. That’s old. We are urged to ‘get out of the churches’, bother the homeless, challenge oppression and fight poverty. I don’t know about all this. For one thing, some of the Social Justice Warriors and professional charity-workers remind me of Mrs Jellyby. We want someone else somewhere else to do good to someone else on our behalf. And then we can write about it. We’ve always got a reason not to be good ourselves. We will be good, Lord – but not just yet. (On the other hand, I grant you, random do-gooding can often be a terribly bad idea).
When I was writing about the foundling hospitals, it occurred to me that the bitter wisdom of the modern age – that life is purely about money, sex and power – is challenged fundamentally by the words of Christ; over the centuries, the Church has been one of the very few institutions that went against the prevailing impulses of the human heart and human society. Often it did not do so well. That is unsurprising. But a faith that tells us that sacrifice and self-denial is an important part of a living is a faith that leads to the example of real heroics. Standing on a bridge holding a coat-hanger for a ‘media moment’ is not bravery. Giving up your life for your faith or, as with Saint Maximilian Kolbe, for another person, keeping your unwanted unborn, nursing the sick and unwanted, staying in a marriage or a rotten job for the sake of your children requires unshowy bravery and an ordinary sort of courage.
Salt in many cultures symbolises honour, cleansing, riches, sanctity, flavour, a pledge fulfilled. In the Russian folktale, Salt, salt is called ‘a dust so full of magic’; it wins Ivan the Ninny the hand of a beautiful princess and a Very Happy Ending. Karen Blixen said: “The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Is Christ telling us to ‘be‘ salt and light? I do not know. Maybe He is telling us what we are. It is inescapable and dangerous. We’ve been bothering the homeless and fighting poverty for two thousand years.