No matter how hard you try, you can’t unring the bell.
Day 15: Matthew 5:13
You are like salt for all mankind. But if salt loses its saltiness there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.
With this scripture Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Mount” to encourage, motivate, equip, and coach his disciples. He takes his disciples up on the hill away from the crowd so that he can motivate and prepare them for the difficult journey ahead.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are important to all mankind. They are as essential to society as salt is to the human body. He has called his followers to be fishers of men. He wants them to be leaders. He wants to prepare them to help him teach, preach, and heal. It is Jesus’ desire that his disciples should change the world and be a blessing to all mankind. He declares, “You are salt.”
Jesus then warns them about the consequences of moral failure. Jesus says that when you are a leader, integrity matters. He says you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube or the genie back in the bottle. You can’t turn back the clock. You can’t unring the bell. Once you mess up you can’t take it back when you are a fisher of men. You can never regain your credibility and your moral authority. It will never be the same. You can’t be salty again.
Look at some of the religious leaders, heroes, and political figures who haIve given in to some kind of temptation and suffered the consequences – Bill Clinton, Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, Ted Haggard, General Petraeus, Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon, or the sex abuser priests to name just a few. There can be forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and acceptance; but things are never really the same. Yes, over time they will all probably be remembered for their achievements rather than their indiscretions. But in the short term their movement or career loses its momentum because of their bad decisions. These people damaged their ability to lead and inspire people. They have lost the essential quality, the integrity that inspired and attracted people to them in the first place; they have lost their saltiness.
I was so upset with Bill Clinton. He was such a good president. It was so disappointing that he would do something so incredibly juvenile and stupid and selfish and impetuous and in so doing jeopardize both his presidency and his marriage. He knew everyone was carefully scrutinizing his every move and yet he still risked everything for a little casual sex. I still think he is a really exceptional person – smart and good-natured and politically savy – but I will always see him as a bit of a fool. His accomplishments will always be somewhat overshadowed by his indiscretion and his failure to take full responsibility for his actions. It would have been better if he had just admitted it and took responsibility for his actions, like David Letterman did when he was the target of a blackmailer. In my mind Clinton’s judgment, his credibility, his sincerity, his honesty, and perhaps even his sanity, and were all called into question. He lost his saltiness as far as I was concerned.
I’m sure that some people would say my attitude about Bill Clinton is “un-Christian.” I’m not angry with Clinton. It’s not a matter of forgiveness. I have compassion for him. I believe that God loves him deeply, but my personal perception of him changed. A lot of Christians would object to this. They want to believe that people can do whatever they want as long as they confess their sins and believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. They think that if we do these things it will magically erase the consequences of our actions. They want to believe that saltiness can be fully restored. I know I’d like to think that, too, but Jesus says otherwise. And having spent many years talking to people who have been in abusive situations, both my head and my heart know that what he says is true. I know that we are all connected, and everything we do has an effect on everyone else. When we mess up we don’t just hurt ourselves. We hurt those who trust and believe in us, so we need to live our lives carefully and consciously, treading lightly, making every effort to do no harm.
In this scripture Jesus is warning his disciples about the pitfalls of fame and the responsibilities of the leadership role he is offering them. He’s expressing the essential truth that some bad things just can’t be undone, that leadership is a privilege, and that the world is depending on them. Salt is important, but worthless if it loses its flavor. If we are followers of Jesus we need to make an effort to stay salty by representing him accurately with both our words and deeds. The most dangerous lie that we can tell ourselves is that it doesn’t really matter what we do. Quite the opposite. Just ask Bill Clinton.
What does this scripture say to you?