You are the salt of the earth. What do these words imply? Did the disciples restore what had already turned rotten? Not at all. Salt cannot help what is already corrupted. That is not what they did. But what had first been renewed and freed from corruption and then turned over to them, they salted and preserved in the newness the Lord had bestowed. It took the power of Christ to free men from the corruption caused by sin; it was the task of the apostles through strenuous labour to keep that corruption from returning.
From a homily on Matthew by St. John Chrysostom
In this section from yesterday’s Office of Readings, St. Chrysostom is quoting our Lord from the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?” (Matthew 5:13, RSV-CE). One interpretation I have heard of this passage is that it means we, as Christians, are supposed to add ‘flavor’ to the society in which we live. While this seems like a questionable understanding to me, there may be some truth in it. But there is a problem – if we are flavoring a society that is already rotten then it is not going to taste any better. Therefore, it seems to me that St. Chrysostom’s interpretation – of salt as a preservative of that which is good – is a better understanding of what our Lord is trying to convey.
Before we continue we must deal with an obvious question: is our society rotten? There are many who would say that we, as a nation, are actually on the right path because now there is marriage ‘equality’, gender sensitiveness (evidenced by the acceptance of Bruce Jenner’s ‘new identity’), and other re-interpretations of moral norms. Those in favor of these things would tell us that truth is what we make it: the sky is blue only because I call it blue and I can just as easily call it orange. But just calling it by a different name does not make it so and common sense, which is not so common anymore, tells us that this is true. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I think that a majority of people still have common sense. And if they were asked to take a critical look at the moral degradation of our society over the last 50 years or so, then they would have to agree that our society has indeed become rotten – in the least, parts of it have become so.
So, what do we do? Is there a way to fix our society as a whole? I suppose if we had an absolute monarchy with a moral and just leader then he could do away with all laws that are immoral and unjust. But we would still be faced with the problem of what to do with those people in our society who still believe in that which is immoral and unjust because they think it is a good thing: such as abortion or ‘marriage equality’. The number of people who truly believe in these things as good is considerable and just enacting proper laws is not going to change their mind. And so we would still be left with a cancer in our society – a cancer of a wrong understanding of mankind. And unless the cancer is cured our society will never be healthy. Instead, the cancer will continue to bring with it a certain amount rottenness to the whole of our society.
This brings us back to the quote from St. Chrysostom. Salt does not turn that which is rotten into something edible. And in a similar manner, just having Christians in a rotten society does not make that society healthy. But there is something, or rather Someone, who can bring healing to the individual members of our society: Jesus Christ. Notice that I say ‘individuals’. Even if we conformed all laws in this country to the teachings of the Church it would not be the same as bringing all the members of our society to Christ. Usually, when something is rotten there is nothing that can be done except to throw it away. But because of what Jesus Christ has done for us even the most rotten person can be renewed and made whole. And it is one of the duties of those who believe to tell the non-believer about Christ and to try to help them see the Truth.