Everything I really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.
There is a lot of truth in this expression. The gospel of today, in which Jesus calls us to be salt of the earth and light of the world, reminds me of my time in Kindergarten. One day, my class stood up in front of the rest of the school and sang “This Little Light of Mine” while holding in our hands small torches that we had made out of Styrofoam cups with paper flames glued to the top. Many of you will remember the lyrics to the song:
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine.Hide it under a bushel? Oh no! I’m gonna let it shine.Jesus gave me the light, I’m gonna let it shine.
In Kindergarten I learned the important lesson that Jesus wants us to have a real positive effect on those we come in contact with. Christ calls us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The two images of light and salt would have been very meaningful for those who heard Jesus’ words some 2000 years ago. At that time, salt was a necessary part of life and a valuable commodity. In addition to flavoring foods, salt was used to preserve food in a time before refrigerators. Then as now, light is something of fundamental importance. Light dispels darkness and it it helps us to see; when light takes the form of a flame it keep us warm. When Jesus tells us to be the salt of the earth, He expects that through our words and actions we season the world with love, justice and all that is good. Like salt we are also meant to be a preservative. We are called to preserves truth in the world, the truth about who God is and who we have been created to be as human beings. When Jesus tells us to be the light of the world, He is asking us to dispel from the world all the darkness caused by sin, hatred, violence and greed by bringing the light of joy, goodness, faith and hope. Being salt of the earth and light of the world means that as Christians we are called to transform everything around us for the better.
The best way to transform the world is one person at a time. Maybe you have heard this joke.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Jesus’ call to reach and transform the entire world can be very intimidating. We need to remember that this transformation starts one encounter at a time. Mother Teresa exemplified this principle.She is remembered for her vast worldwide network to help the poor. Interestingly, she never went out trying to eradicate global poverty. What she did do was strive to bring the love, care and kindness of Jesus to one person at a time. She would often say,
Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.
If you have ever had the opportunity to see video showing Mother Teresa in action you will notice the remarkable attention she paid to however she happened to be with, rich or poor. When she was speaking to someone, she listened as though there was no one else in the world. She showed such care and interest in the person through they way she looked at them, touched them and smiled at them. She was salt and light to one person at a time. Do we do the same? Think about it. Are the people that you encounter and speak with during the day left happier and more full of hope and joy after having spent time with you? Are family members, coworkers and friends better off for having been in your presence? We are called to transform the world one person at a time.
Often we are not salt and light to those that we encounter. In the Gospel warns us against hiding our light or from becoming salt that has lost its saltiness, something that is good for nothing and thrown away. What does it look like when we Christians lose our saltiness? Christians who have lost their saltiness are a drain on people that they encounter. They have become pessimistic, cynical, sad and lacking in conviction. They are not pleasant to be around. In his speeches and writings, Pope Francis is known for some unique turns of phrase. Pope Francis explained recently that Christians who had lost their saltiness turn into “sourpusses” (Evangelii Gaudium, 85). As followers of Jesus we have been entrusted with the Good News that Jesus has died for our sins and has risen from the dead so that we can one day live forever with Him. This news should fill us with joy and affect the way that we behave. Certainly, we cannot be upbeat all the time, that is not realistic. That said, if Christians are habitual sourpusses, pessimistic and lacking in zeal there is something wrong. As the expression goes,
We cannot preach the Resurrection with Good Friday faces.
Often we are not salt and light to those that we encounter.The good news is that we can regain our saltiness once we have lost it. We can make our light brighter if it has become dimmed. The secret to doing this is by remembering where we got this light from in the first place. This is something I learned in Kindergarten:
Jesus gave me the light, I’m gonna let it shine.
Jesus is the light of the world. As Christians, we are called to carry His light to others. This fact is symbolized in a powerful way during the rite of baptism. After anyone is baptized, they are given a lighted candle and told to “receive the light of Christ” and to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts”. It is very significant that the candle is lit from the Paschal Candle. This is the candle that it blessed at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Paschal candle is a special symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. In order to brighten our light if it is dimmed or regain our saltiness, we need to return to the source: the resurrection of Jesus. Often the disappointments and struggles of life can get us down and defeated. We can turn into sourpusses without even being aware of it. We need to remind ourselves of the simple fact that because of of His resurrection Jesus has conquered everything: sin, hatred, greed and death itself. We need to remind ourselves that the war is already won. As Pope Francis said:
Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents.(Evangelii Gaudium, 85)
When we consciously remind ourselves of Jesus’ resurrection, we can restore our saltiness when it has been lost and brighten our light if it has become dim.When we talk about being salt of the earth and light of the world, we must resist the temptation to think abstractly. God has put concrete people in our lives that we are called to impact in a positive way: family, friends, co-workers. In our encounters with these people, are we bringing them joy and peace? Whenever we find that our we are losing our saltiness or that our light has become dimmed let us remind ourselves of a powerful truth we learned in Kindergarten: our light comes from Jesus Christ who has Risen from the dead and conquered death. Christianity is about Good News. Let us not be sourpusses but a light to others that can shine, shine, shine.