Immortality is a cool concept. The idea of not seeing the decay of muscle and skin has its appeal because to stay in ones prime is the ideal. To be immortal is to cheat death and mediocrity. To do such a thing would take something that is not of this world into the equation of this world.
When Jesus was speaking to his disciples, those who were daring enough to go from inquiry to commitment, the message to them included that which is otherworldly to so impact then that they would allow the supernatural to change them to the core.
But if a disciple of the never changing Jesus is marked with the stuff of heaven in meaning and day to day values, how is life in a world that is broken in self-interest and fear to interact with consistent followers of Jesus that are called to selflessness and love? And vice-versa?
Jesus laid down the gauntlet again with this issue here:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
The first understanding to get from this verse is in reminding ourselves that not just anybody can be salt of the earth. It has to be someone that has had a conversion experience, has heard the words of eternal life and is committed to those words being fleshed out where the rubber hits the road.
The second understanding is that those who calls themselves disciples of Jesus will be assessed by the world. Are the a functional group or is this a functional individual? In my work as a social worker I assess people and family units by how harmonious they are with their values and the needs of daily living. In a sense, those who do not call themselves Christians can be our valued critics in their inquiry and their challenges: do you walk the talk of living the Christian life? Martin Luther King talked about a better day where one “is not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” The point is that we will all be judged by our fellow man.
At this point I need to point out that being salt of the earth does not rest primarily on being assessed by the world but on God and Christians should not be confused on this. The agenda of God includes His Church being right when the world is wrong not just right where it is right. Salt can be healing, salt can burn where the flesh is sensitive and salt can be both. So too is the Body of Christ intrinsically in its calling. So when I hear about the intention to be “culturally relevant”, I get nervous because if it is not a noble pursuit like avoiding ethnocentric thinking (e.g. God is a White Republican), then it turns into going along with situational ethics and “the tyranny of moral relativism” (Joesph Ratzinger). When people who call themselves Christians go with The Church of Oprah or the latest emotional blackmail tactic of Glee, they get the applause of the world but the groan of the martyrs that paid the price of staying true to God.
If it is any comfort to those who have bowed their knee to the Gospel of Oprah, to be holy will still gain you respect. You could be a martyr, but even those who would kill you will respect you. Case in point is John the Baptist. He was put in prison by Herod because he said that it was unlawful to have his brother’s wife. Yet the scriptures say that he loved to hear him preach between arresting him and having him executed. Such a bad scenario is not the worst that could have happened to him. The worst that could have happened would be, “Hey Herod. I was so insensitive to your alternative means of courtship of marriage. Who am I to argue with the ways of the human heart? As long as you love each other.”
“Thanks for getting with the times, Jonny! Come on everybody! Give him some applause and send him on his way.” And under such an addiction of flattery he lives a comfy life as can we and be trampled under the seductive feet of worldly praise. As we all have where we have lost our way. But where the individual disciple of Jesus loses their way, what are the characteristics of being back in the trademark of being spiritually relevant first?
I remember a great photo of a lighthouse in my in-laws place. It is a modest sized lighthouse on a small rock with waves towering onto it but not going anywhere that day or any other day. Such is the Church that was founded 2,000 years ago. “ if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Make no mistake. When one is passive with the flow of a morally relative culture you just drift into a different church. It is just a church consecrated to the fundamental purpose of the self being God which is inherently going to be a shaking into destruction.
Also be sure that in a refining process for the people walking with Christ there will also be a shaking. In fact, it will on them first. Simon Peter wrote in his first papal encyclical “judgment begins with the house of God”. The meaning of this is that when Christians engage with the world it is to be in humility and not “holier than thou” but holy by Him.
If we are grounded like this then we maintain, or through repentance, regain this “saltiness”. We will not be dismissed as irrelevant and if we are stomped on it will be because we are linked with the calling of the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church” (Nicean Creed 325). Can you stay “salty”? Do you want to? If not, are you really gaining what matters? The gift of free will is to all of us. I am making my choice to be a yes and hopefully be a vessel for healing and saving.
AFTERNOTE—For the reader that does not find themselves in communion with Rome, I want to make sure you are edified too. Anyone who has had a conversion experience with Jesus is touched by the message of God’s saving love for the whole whole world and not isolated to one race or ethnicity. Catholicity is at one level taking the whole gospel to the whole world.