You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its flavor be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel; they put on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
If we were creating the universe, do you think we would come up with strange wonders like the Grand Canyon, or the Dead Sea, or Niagara Falls or the North Pole? Would we design animals like the giraffe of the hippopotamus, or the ostrich or the pelican? Nature is full of startling and marvelous surprises as well as incongruities. It would lead us to think that the Creator has a fantastic sense of paradox.
This might be particularly evident in the creation of the human race. God makes us in his own image, with incredible power of intelligence and unlimited freedom of choice. He clothes us in flesh and we are charged with very volatile emotions and passions, strong likes and dislikes, powerful instincts of love and hate. We are challenged to be perfectly holy, so as to reflect the very holiness of God. And yet we really haven't done a very good job at getting it all together.
Life is a series of paradoxes and Jesus is a very difficult model to follow. He makes outrageous demands on our sense of the reasonable. He seems to believe that we can transcend all of the limitations of our fragile nature. He invites us to be heroes, to be fools, to be clowns in the eyes of the unbelieving world around us. He tells us that we are the "salt" of the earth, the "light" of the world.
But what does that really mean?
The prophet Isaiah tells the people of God to share their bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when they see them, and warns them not turn their backs on their own. Isaiah presents his own vision of paradox: care for one another, and you will receive God's care yourselves. Jesus likewise calls his followers to conduct their lives so that they will call attention to the presence of God within them by how they interact with one another. Salt, light and a city on a hill are visible examples showing what this message means.
For salt to be flavorful it must go to work on its target. For light to shatter the darkness, it must burn ever so brightly. For us to be true witnesses to the Gospel, we must be do-ers, not talkers. Jesus just doesn't invite us to think beyond this life with pious eyes looking towards heaven. He shows what needs to be done and He tells us that we are to do it. We may ask ourselves how we are to do this but he has already given us the answer.
The answer is wrapped up in the ever-present mystery at the heart of our Christianity, of dying to ourselves so that the love of God and neighbor might come to full bloom in us.
The Crucified Christ teaches us how to die and the Risen Christ teaches us how to live. The Cross conditions us to self-denial, to contradiction, to weakness, to failure and to foolishness for the sake of love. The Empty Tomb assures us that the victory and the power of the Risen Lord are ours. It is through this experience that we defy the world and its standards.
It is only by becoming salt and light the paradox of God can make sense and we can truly transform the world.