Christ calls us salt

*** A reflection from the Sermon on the Mount. The sentiments of these words are plain (though searching), but to sound its best the music needs a choir.



Christianity nowadays is seen as but one religion among many. For some it is like a package in a leisure supermarket, to be tasted or not, depending.

Against this background Christian worshippers, many or most of whom identify as disciples of Christ, hear Jesus declare, You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world (Matthew 5.13a, 14a). It’s enough to provoke a crisis of credulity: how can the words of the Gospel preached many centuries ago be true today when experience suggests that large parts of the Church are seen (if seen at all) as irrelevant to modern living?

But we are in good company. The disciples whom Jesus addressed on the ‘Mount of the Beatitudes’ must also have thought his words wildly off the mark. The metaphors of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ imply influence within society; but then, as now, those who influenced others were the powerful and the wealthy. At best, the disciples, beguiled by Jesus’ persuasive presence, might choose to deceive themselves into thinking that they were having a greater impact than was actually the case.

For today’s disciples there is a way of responding in prayer to Jesus’ words that subtly aims to diminish their force: ‘May we become salt for the earth, become lights for the world…’ That is to say, ‘It is ludicrous to think of ourselves as salt and light, but we agree that it is desirable that we should be; so make us how you want us to be; (but not yet).’ The implications of our being as prominent as Jesus can be frightening to contemplate.

This hymn takes Jesus’ words seriously, and invites worshippers to let the Spirit of Christ work according to the measure of the gifts and opportunities presented to them. We may none of us be famous, even locally, and our reputation, like that of Paul the Apostle (2 Corinthians 6.8-10), may at times be worth nothing; but, like Paul, we put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way (2 Corinthians 6.3-7). From the worshipper’s standpoint, we simply don’t know what objective impact we have beyond ourselves; but the presence of Christ going before us means that our influence is greater, and more benign, than we might dare to suppose.

The hymn is of the type that has been called ‘reflexive’; that is, although addressed to God in Christ, rather than exploring any Christian doctrine, its chief purpose is to reflect on the situation of the worshippers. We are given opportunity to consider what discipleship entails.

The prayers that arise from these considerations are simple: “Christ … keep us salty and light”, and “Father in heaven, let the good earth rejoice, all peoples upraise you and thrive in your grace.”

The music, written on Holy Innocents Day 1996, is light, airy, and upbeat in tone. It says, “This is how it is.” As with the text, so with the music, there is no argument: they exist together, to be acknowledged, or not, as testimonies to the life of the Spirit in Jesus’ disciples.

The music is not conventionally accessible to congregations, and would be best taught with the help of a choir. Alternatively, the hymn may be offered as a choir item. It would in any case sound best when sung in harmony.