A dilemma for the virtuous

Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson

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You will often have heard virtuous people being described as ‘the salt of the earth’. But have you ever thought what that expression means?

Salt purifies, it adds flavour, so if you describe an individual thus, is that really what you mean? Probably it is, for such people tend to have a cleansing effect on those around them, often making others uncomfortable telling smutty jokes in their company, or maybe one who swears within earshot is embarrassed, maybe even apologises.

I was reading through the Beatitudes the other morning and I was stopped in my tracks when I came to verse 13 in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5. The passage begins, ‘Jesus’ disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.’ And so I thought I would linger a bit longer. I could eavesdrop as he addressed them and maybe I could learn something too.

So in my mind’s eye he leaned towards me and very earnestly said, ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ and instantly he dealt with a question that has been troubling me for a couple of years.

The world is a different place from the one I grew up in, and there are times I feel anachronistic, a relic from a bygone day. It seems that the values and principles I grew up with have been systematically dismantled in our ‘spirit of whatever’.

For example, it’s widely accepted as the norm these days for people to be sexually active almost at the drop of a hat, and that just doesn’t accord with what I was brought up to believe. The attitude seems to be, if it feels good, just do it.

‘Not on my watch!’ I hear myself silently howl. If my son brings his girlfriend home one evening and then decides to stay the night, I would think to myself, ‘No! You cannot do this!’

I visited a close family friend recently and was reintroduced to their daughter, who had been estranged for a while. I was delighted, and then I met her girlfriend to whom she hopes to be married in a year or so. I heard myself stammer a couple of half-formed words as I thought, is it not my responsibility as a senior family member – in terms of age – to put them straight? (no pun intended.)

Now the two scenarios I have just alluded to might or might not be true, but to feel as I have felt in the recent past over such situations, imposes huge strain on relationships, as well as anxiety on my part. Surely I have some responsibility for the morality of those around me, particularly those whom I love.

Yesterday I would have said an emphatic Yes. But today? Well Jesus had a similar experience. He could have come up with a thousand reasons why the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ should have sold all he had and followed him, just as the others had, but as that young man turned and walked away Jesus left him with his own decision. He had made the wrong choice but it was his choice and even though it was said that Jesus loved him, he let him go.

I feel deeply for those around me who in my view are making wrong choices, choices that might result in great pain, regret and loss, but I know I must leave it to them. My role is to be salt and light. The only alternative is for me to be a totally stressed-out control freak!