By Michael E. Brooks
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
One Friday recently Brenda and I ate lunch with the students and staff as we do 2 or 3 days a week. This day’s lunch was rice with beef curry, cooked with lots of spices and several chili peppers. There was also eggplant, fried in oil with shredded onions and chili peppers, squash, chopped fine and fried with (you guessed it) chili peppers. And finally, a salad of sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions in vinegar and oil with just a few chili peppers chopped up fine with them.
Of course, there were several bowls of whole fresh green chilies set on the table and everyone (including Brenda and I) had one or more to add a little spice to the meal. By now all should perceive the major theme of a Bangladeshi meal. “No chilies, no taste!” is an often stated and seriously meant proverb.
All cultures have their style of cooking and favorite foods. Some prefer light seasoning, others like it hot and spicy. Some use rice as their staple, others eat potatoes, and still others casaba or yams. But some seasonings and ingredients are staples, used by virtually everyone. Perhaps none is more universal than salt. Not everyone would agree with the Bangla proverb, but almost all will accept “No salt, no taste.”
Just as salt flavors food, so certain virtues and characteristics enrich life, both that of society and of individuals. Some people know how to live. Some cultures get it. Others fail miserably. Why is one person happy and cheerful, while another in very similar circumstance is bitter, never seeming to find enjoyment in anything. Frequently the difference can be found in fundamental components of character.
Jesus describes some of those components earlier in the chapter cited above, in the sayings which Christians have long known as “the Beatitudes”. These are the characteristics of life which will lead to blessings, or as the reward is sometimes translated, to happiness. They include meekness, humility, purity, the desire for peace, the desire for righteousness, the capacity to mourn, and the willingness to forgive.
These qualities are hardly on the short list of characteristics thought in the modern world to guarantee success. Ambition, aggressiveness, and dedication to personal rewards are popularly believed to constitute the route to wealth, fame and success. Yet evidence abounds that it is the path that Jesus recommends that leads to true happiness.
Real success is not a goal that can be successfully pursued in a direct manner. Rather it is a gift, or even a by-product that comes from doing the right things and being of a right character.
One lives in a certain way because it is true and good. Decisions are made and conduct is set by one’s ethical standard, that is by his character. That conduct may not lead to wealth, fame, or pleasure, either immediately or even in the long term. But if the ethical standard it based on truth, and character is patterned after that of Jesus Christ, real success is guaranteed. Jesus calls that success “Eternal Life”, and he promises it to all those who hear his words and do them (Matthew 7:21-27).
By Michael E. Brooks