I was teaching my kung fu class the other day working with one of the students. He was having a difficult time with one of the movements I’d shown him a few weeks earlier. He just wasn’t getting it. I told him to just move naturally. “You can tell when you’re moving correctly,” I told him, “It just feels right. It’s totally natural. When you feel off balance, when you feel awkward, it’s a sign you’re doing it wrong.” As children, we move naturally, and then, somehow, we forget how to move, how to breathe. And then I asked him if he practiced every day. He answered that he did not. I told him that in order to make progress, daily practice is necessary.
It’s almost as if the student expected there was some little trick I could give him, something I could say, that would make the movement come out right. My students in elementary school were like that too. They would ask for help, but what they really wanted was for someone to do the work for them. That was their definition of help. The truth is, a lot of parents seem to think that too. When their kids ask for help with their science fair projects, the parents make the project themselves, while their children watch.
My own kids were like that, especially as they got older. They would get themselves into some kind of jam, and then ask me to come in, like the hand of God, and get them out of trouble by paying the bills, or by doing whatever it was they needed doing. But they sure as hell weren’t hoping for me to help them out by telling them what they needed to do to help themselves. I guess we’re all a little that way.
Many people send their prayers up to God, or whatever you want to call that creative force in the universe, expecting God to come through with some sort of miracle to fix things. We look at the world and how messed up it is and pray that God will fix things. Dear Lord, let this cup pass away from us. But that isn’t the way it works.
My own parents inadvertently taught me that lesson. When my sons were little, we needed help with babysitting. My parents offered to help us out and we gladly accepted. For several months, we dropped the kids off with them and then went to work. Then, one day, just before we were about to drop the kids off, they announced they wouldn’t be doing that anymore. We had to scramble to find childcare that day and for the future. Boy, were we pissed! It wasn’t easy, but we solved our problem. And we learned a valuable lesson. We learned to take care of ourselves. We learned not to depend on others swooping in to save us. It’s great when you receive help from outside, but you can’t depend upon it.
Jesus tells us in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “You are the salt of the land, but if the salt had lost its taste, in what will it become salty? It is good for nothing, except to be thrown out to be tread down by human beings. You are the light of the world. A city setting upon a mountain is not able to be concealed, neither do they light a candle and set it under the bushel, but upon the candlestick, and it beams brightly to all the ones in the house. So let your light shine radiantly before the people that they might see your good works and might give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew, Chapter 5)
This is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking to his followers. Up to that time, the children of Israel had been looking to God to send them somebody to free them from the Romans and make everything okay, in much the same way that people pray for Jesus to come and fix everything today. But Jesus tells us that WE are the salt of the earth.
Now remember, back in first century Palestine, salt had great value. It was used to flavor food, and to keep it from going bad. It is from the Latin word for salt (sal) that we get our word “salary”. Sale was often used as money. Jesus is telling his disciples they have great value. “YOU are the salt of the earth,” he says. We are the ones that bring flavor to life. We are the ones who keep the world from being spoiled. That is especially important to remember in times like these.
He continues by saying that it is we who are the light of the world. Contrast that with those who expect Christ to be the light of the world. Yes, Christ can be a light to us, but it is up to us to let that light shine out to the world. It isn’t up to Jesus to fix our world. It is up to us. When his pals came to him to ask for food to feed the multitudes, Jesus told them, “YOU feed them.”
We are the hands of God, the hands of Christ on earth. We have everything we need to take care of one another. There is more than enough food in the world. There is more than enough money to fix our infrastructure and take care of the less fortunate also. We just have to learn to share, that’s all. Those who have need to share with those who don’t. Jesus said that those who had two coats needed to give one away. You can’t be any more clear than that. We’re supposed to share. We’re supposed to take care of one another.
We are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, what value has it? What good are we if we can’t share what we have with one another? Everywhere around us there are people in need, people in pain. And I have to ask myself what am I doing with what I have to make their lives easier?
You know, you look at people at need, and you want to do something. I see the homeless person asking for a handout and I want to give something. It’s a natural reaction to want to help. But then, I start thinking about how I might need the money later, or about how I have something else to do right now, or whatever, and then, regardless of wanting to help, I turn my eyes away and go about my business. But my first reaction is to help. I see someone crying or upset and I want to comfort them, but then I tell myself to mind my own business. And I fail.
I made up my mind some time ago to try to help the people I see when I see them. I try to make sure to help out every person (or animal) I see in need. In fact, I try to remember to fix things that need fixing when I see them, whether or not I would consider it my “job” to do it. If I see some trash on the ground, I pick it up. It isn’t that hard to do. Sometimes it’s something as simple as being a little extra pleasant to the clerk behind the checkout stand. It’s a hard job. They can use a smile from time to time. I try to practice this every day.
Lending a hand is just a natural thing to do. It’s what we want to do. In fact, the truth is, I think we turn our eyes away from those in need because not helping them isn’t a very natural way to act. You have to make yourself not help when help is needed. I guess it’s a lot like my kung fu lesson. If it doesn’t feel natural, you’re not doing things right. That’s the message of this little gospel reading.
We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. We are the hands and heart of God on earth. It’s up to us to fix our world. We have all the tools we need. We have the love. We just have to share it. Each of us has an infinite capacity for love. Love is the only thing I know that the more you give, the more you have. So share your love. Be the light. It’s only natural. But you have to practice every day.