The story is told of a school teacher who had a class of high-school sophomores. Her students were basically good kids, and smart as well, but they had the bad habit of putting each other down in word and deed, sometimes cruelly. The teacher, a wise and good woman, didn't want that kind of behavior to continue. So one Friday morning she handed each of them a sheet containing her complete class roster. Then she told them to write down next to each name the best thing they could honestly say about each classmate. “Just write the truth,” she said, “and nothing more.” And so they did.
At home that weekend the teacher compiled the data. Then on Monday she handed each student a summary of what their classmates had written about them. Without exception, the students were astonished by what they read. Some said, “I never knew people noticed that about me.” Others said, “I didn't know I was so liked.” Every student had a surprised and satisfying smile on their face.
But the story doesn't end there, because some years later one of those students was killed while on military service in Afghanistan. The teacher and many of her former students came to his memorial service. When the service was over, the father of the dead soldier walked over to the teacher and said, “I want to show you something. They found this paper in my son's pocket.” He handed her a worn piece of paper that had been folded, unfolded and taped together many times. It was his son's treasured list of all the good things his classmates had written about him years ago. Then one by one, the classmates spoke up and admitted that they too still had their lists, tucked in diaries, scrapbooks, wallets or purses. Just reading those lists, they said, called each of them to be true to the good others had seen in them.
In today's Gospel, Jesus names the good that he sees in each of us. “You are the light of the world! You are the salt of the earth!” Light lets us see all the wonderful things that cannot be seen in the darkness. Light lets us see faces and flowers, paintings and trees – and if we are careful, we can even see into human hearts. Light lets us see what's worth having, and what's not worth having. That's what we are for each other: light!
But we're also salt – Jesus confirms this! Salt draws out the flavor, the zest, the special character of whatever it touches. In the right quantity, it brings out the very best. Salt is also a preservative, protecting from spoilage and decay, keeping things whole and ready to serve life, not death. Yes, that's also what we are for each other: salt!