One of my favorite stages of raising our children was when their minds were still at the literal stage, but they encountered metaphorical sayings.” When Rebecca first heard “it’s raining cats and dogs,” she looked outside to see if there were really cats and dogs coming down. The first time I said to Christian “Shake a leg,” he did just that: he shook his leg. As we grow we learn that when someone says, “I am on a roller coaster of emotions,” they are not really on a roller coaster, but feel like it. When someone says, “when you come to the fork in the road, take a left,” we know not to expect a piece of silverware stuck in the ground. But still there can be confusion over metaphorical sayings. The first time Brian said to me, “It’s the size of a breadbox,” I said, “huh?” I did not grow up with a breadbox, so it was meaningless to me. Metaphorical sayings are often contextual and need some understanding to be effective.
Jesus used metaphors to teach his message. “I am the bread of life.” “I am the shepherd.” He used metaphors to teach his followers how to be disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” What did Jesus mean?
In the ancient Biblical world, salt was a precious commodity, used to season and to preserve goods before refrigeration. Salt also made people thirst for something more. Jesus wanted his disciples to give flavor and zest to the world, preserve the truth, as well as make the world thirst for more.
In the ancient Biblical world, light was a precious commodity, before the invention of electricity. Light dispels darkness and warms. Being the light of the world means exposing the darkness of evil and sin, often caused by ignorance and prejudice, and illuminating the way of life.
In Bible study on Wednesday, leader Ray Winter said that with metaphors like these, sometimes you need to substitute different words, in order to understand it better.
So, instead of “ You are the salt of the earth,” someone suggested “You are Sodium Chloride,” another said, “You are the knowledge of the Lord.” Instead of “You are the light of the world,” someone suggested “You are an invaluable resource.”
As I thought about it, I came up with two words that surprised me: Conservative and liberal.
These are two words that we hear a lot these days. They were once descriptive words.
According to the dictionary, conservative means “believing in and holding to traditional attitudes and values; cautious about change or innovation, in relation to politics or religion.”
According to Wikipedia, Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality, and justice for all.
Today, they are now insults and put-downs—used to cast judgment and to divide us and them.
According to urban dictionary, conservatism is a cult of stupidity dedicated to making greed and bigotry moral virtues; the interests of the rich and powerful should be protected at all costs; while the poor and helpless should be kept in a state of ignorance using propaganda and fear of the Other (e.g. immigrants, non-whites, Muslims, and terrorists)
According to Conservapedia, a liberal is someone who craves an increase in government spending, power and control. Liberals also support the censorship and denial of Christianity. According to Urban Dictionary, an extreme liberal is the WORST type of person. To start with, they brainwash people….They tell you to hate Republicans and everyone who thinks differently than you.
To paraphrase humor columnist Dave Barry, Republicans think of Democrats as godless, unpatriotic, Volvo-driving, France-loving, elitist latte guzzlers. Whereas Democrats dismiss Republicans as ignorant, NASCAR-obsessed, gun-fondling religious fanatics. An exaggeration, but the reality is still pretty stark. Congress is in a perpetual stalemate because the two parties can’t find middle ground on practically anything.
In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt argues that liberals and conservatives need not revile one another as immoral on issues such as birth control, gay marriage or health care reform. Even if these two worldviews clash, they are equally grounded in ethics and morals.
Haidt has a message for both sides. He wants the left to acknowledge that the right’s emphasis on laws, institutions, customs and religion is valuable.
Liberal values, on the other hand, also serve important roles: ensuring that the rights of weaker members of society are respected; limiting the harmful effects, such as pollution, that corporations sometimes pass on to others; and fostering innovation by supporting diverse ideas and ways of life. Haidt is not out to change peoples’ deepest moral beliefs. Yet he thinks if people could see that those they disagree with are not immoral but simply emphasizing different moral principles, some of the antagonism would subside.
A woman came to see me after the Presidential election. Her family was divided, antagonistic.
I know many of you have struggled sitting across the table from people who voted differently.
She told me about a conversation she had with her brother I thought was instructive:
You are my brother—I can’t believe you are a liberal, but I still love you.
You are my sister-I can’t believe you are a conservative, but I still love you.
Jesus said, “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.” Just as Salt preserves, conservatives can help us hold onto what is good.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Just as the Light illumines, liberals can help us to scatter darkness and show the way of love for all of God’s children.
What did Jesus mean? In general, Jesus was teaching them that it is not enough to know about God, but we are called to live out our identity as disciples. Jesus is warning against our “default setting which leans toward comfort, conformity, and complacency, when what Jesus really needs from us is to be the salt and the light” (Karoline Lewis, WorkingPreacher).
This is an extraordinary time we are living. This is the first time in my lifetime, I have witnessed such unrest and unity, debate and discussion, protests and passion. Many of the debates are based on fundamental values. I think we Christians are called to the public square to put our faith in action—to be salt and light, conservatives and liberals, standing together, in mutual respect and in vigorous debate, in holding onto what is good and illuminating what is not good, in speaking the truth in love.
Sisters and Brothers in Faith, let us not be afraid to answer Jesus’ call to be Salt and Light, in a world desperately in need of both.