Everyone will be salted with fire. (Mk 9:49)
How is Christ salt and light for you? Which of his words or actions transformed you with his love?
How can you be salt and light for others? What kind of love does the world need?
In the movie “Babette’s Feast,” a French chef takes refuge in Denmark after collapse of the Second Empire in 1871. The citizens of her adopted town are mostly Lutheran pietists. They have a powerful work ethic and attempt to live simply, act justly and walk humbly with God in all things. It is an odd place for a brilliant chef; the staple breakfast item is a dish called øllebrød (ale-bread), which is simply stale rye bread, ground up and mixed with a splash of ale into a kind of paste. A memorable scene shows Babette’s nauseated reaction when she tastes it for the first time. As the film progresses and Babette takes over the task of feeding the town’s few paupers, the viewer sees that a change has occurred. The food has become better tasting, and the paupers look forward to Babette’s daily visit because of it. Babette’s art guided her as she prepared their meal, and by making subtle changes, she managed to mix simple food and simple joy into one dish.
Some people bring something different to the world. Babette was an artisan whose unusual skill brought forth small joys in others every day. In our Gospel this week, Jesus counsels Christians to live in a similar way: “You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world!” Babette possessed a mysterious art that transformed the people around her. Similarly, Christians possess a power that can transform the entire world.
This power goes by various names in the Scriptures. It is the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire that John the Baptist prophesied. It is the “new life” of John’s Gospel. It is the salt and light of today’s reading. When someone follows Christ in an active way, his power transforms not just the believer alone but also those with whom the believer has contact.
By his own admission, Christ’s only power is the love he shares with the Father. This is the power that drew him to a lifetime of service and a self-sacrificial death. This is the power he shares with us. The nature of this love is expressed well in our first reading: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
When we are salted with this love and look around at the world in the light it gives us, the first glimpse can be intimidating. The world lacks love at almost every level. Human endeavors are often exercises in selfishness and industrious self-defeat. Even the gifts of family and community can sometimes resemble the ale-bread of the Danish village, providing enough for survival but offering nothing in which to rejoice. Into this insipid and shadowed world our Lord sends us to be salt and light. Like Babette, whose art elicited joy, the love of Christ in us elicits hope in everyone we meet. Our acts of service and self-sacrifice, of forgiveness and generosity and welcoming allow the power of Christ, which once transformed us, reach out and transform the whole earth.