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Jesus In Chicago

by Tim O'Hearn

When I was in the Navy, I spent a few years in the Chicago area. Winters there can be very interesting. One Sunday the church assembly was delayed until 2:00 p.m. because of the cold, which worked out well since only one car from the naval base could start. (We packed about fifteen people into one station wagon to get to church.) Once I rode my bicycle a mile and a half to work in a raging blizzard, and somehow ended up on a sidewalk although I had started in the street. Chicagoland winters even help a person to understand some of what Jesus taught, although I doubt that he had them in mind.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt 5:13-16)

Anyone who has spent a considerable time in the American Midwest knows what Jesus was talking about when he refers to salt and light. More specifically, they know the negative aspects to which he referred.

Salt is good. Most people know the flavoring and preservative natures of salt. Some know the medicinal nature of salt. When I did some body surfing in Hawaii and cut my foot on some coral, I never felt the pain until I was out of the salt water, and never got an infection in the wound. Observant Jews know several other uses of salt. Many of the animal sacrifices in Leviticus had to be offered with salt. Additionally, salt is vital to koshering. Animals must be killed in a kosher manner and then salted to remove as much blood as possible. (This is an oversimplification of the process.) Salt is used because of its absorbent properties. But sometimes salt loses any or all of these properties. It loses its flavor, and is good for nothing but “to be trodden under foot of men.” This is where Chicago comes into play. Ice is a major problem on winter roads. Some places sand the roads. Albuquerque uses crushed volcanic rock. Chicago and other places use salt. Anyone who has tasted the salt they use on the roads would not put it in their stew. It is only good for putting on roads and sidewalks. Thus it still has a use, but the use is primarily to be trodden under foot of man.

Another frequent problem in North Chicago, mostly during tornado season, was power outages. Lightning or tornados would cause electricity to go out in certain areas. When that happened, some people scrambled to find a flashlight or a battery powered camp lantern. Some of us knew where we kept an oil-filled hurricane lamp. It is amazing how much light a hurricane lamp provides, especially if placed in front of a mirror. Nobody I knew, however, would find a flashlight, turn it on, and put it back in the drawer. Nobody would light a hurricane lamp and put it in a cabinet. (Not only would it not light the room; it would go out for lack of air.) No, emergency lighting was placed where it would cast the most light. Similarly, you don’t go hiking in the woods at night and keep the flashlight pointed at the treetops; you will miss the path, possibly with disastrous consequences.

You are the salt of the earth. Are you providing flavor and preservation to the people you meet? Or are you only melting ice on the roadway of life? You are the light of the world. In the tornadoes of life, do you light up the room or the path? Or do you hide in the cupboard, or shine only on the treetops? Are you good, or, in Jesus’ words, “good for nothing?”