By Brian Bennett

As I was preparing for last Sunday’s encounter with the Beatitudes, I read Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew. He drew so much from Bonhoeffer that I turned back to Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. I know I read it in seminary, but that was about ten years ago. I am reading it differently this time, or at least new things are popping out at me. Bonhoeffer’s insistence on the Sermon being about the community called and gathered around Jesus is challenging and freeing for Jesus does not proscribe what we must be, he simply describes us.

Commenting about the upcoming gospel reading about the community being the salt of the earth, Bonhoeffer writes:

“Ye are the salt.” Jesus does not say: “You must be the salt.” It is not for the disciple to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they received. Again, it is: “Ye are the salt,” not “Ye have the salt.” By identifying the salt with the apostolic proclamation the Reformers robbed the saying of all its sting. No, the word speaks of their whole existence in so far as it is grounded anew in the call of Christ, that same existence which was the burden of the beatitudes. The call of Christ makes those who respond to it the salt of the earth in their total existence.

Of course, there is another possibility–the salt may lose its savour and cease to be salt at all. It just stops working. Then it is indeed good for nothing but to be thrown away. That is the peculiar quality of salt. Everything else needs to be seasoned with salt, but once the salt has lost its savour, it can never be salted again. Everything else can be saved by salt, however bad it has gone–only salt which loses its savour has no hope of recovery. That is the other side of the picture. That is the judgment which always hangs over the disciple community, whose mission it is to save the world, but which, if it ceases to live up to the mission is itself irretrievably lost. The call of Jesus Christ means either that we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it. There is no question of a second chance.

-Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 1995 Touchstone Books, pp. 116-117

Challenging words for a tradition so hyper-sensitive to notions of works righteousness. Images that Bonhoeffer uses there at the end distress us.

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