In biblical times, Jesus encouraged his disciples to be like salt and light. To understand what he meant, we must know how salt and light were used 2,000 years ago.
Just like today, salt was used to season and preserve food. In the desert climate where they lived, there was little or no wood available to build a fire, so approximately 99% of the salt was used to dry out animal dung, so it could be used as fuel. If the dung was allowed to dry naturally, it would turn to dust. However, if the dung was collected and salted before drying, it turned into something valuable; a fuel source to enable cooking, baking and heating.
We have all heard the expression, “salt of the earth," used to describe someone who is good, honest, helpful and dependable. In short, someone you can rely on when you need it most. This reflects on the age-old use of salt and is a parable used to illustrate how you can rely on “the salt of the earth" to take something considered useless like animal dung and make it better and useful like a source of fuel.
Light is a bit easier to understand, but it's important to note that in the days of Jesus, light came from small oil lamps and it was not very bright. In the darkest of nights, however, even a small light could illuminate the surroundings to prevent falling and lead others to safety.
A great example of the power of one small light in extreme darkness is the story of Boys Town Alumnus Lloyd Bucher, Commander of the U.S.S. Pueblo, a navy spy ship. In January of 1968, his ship was attacked in international waters by the North Koreans, who surrounded it with six gunboats, along with two MiG Fighters. Bucher and his men worked quickly to destroy sensitive data and he decided to surrender to spare the lives of his 83 men, though one died in the hail of bullets from the gunships.
This international incident caused the Navy both anger and anguish. In surrendering without firing a shot, Commander Bucher became the first skipper to surrender an American Warship since the War of 1812.
After the surrender, the crew of the Pueblo were held in cement-block cells for the next eleven months. During these dark days, most of them lost half their body weight because of ongoing torture, starvation and disease. Through it all, Bucher was a “light in the darkness" for his men. He gave them hope.
Forced to compose a confession of his war crimes, Bucher used obscure language like pee-on, which means “to sing the praises of." His speech began with, “We pee-on the North Korean State…" He also convinced the North Koreans that raising the middle finger was a Hawaiian good luck sign and had all his men brandish it whenever they were photographed for propaganda purposes.
After his release, Bucher faced a Naval Court of Inquiry for surrendering the ship and losing classified data, but they found him not guilty. Bucher continued to serve in the U.S. Navy until retirement and he regularly kept in contact with the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo to support them in their healing from the darkness of their captivity. His little light shone brightly in their darkness.
As the military debriefed this incident, they decided to create a training to prepare soldiers for the physical and psychological torture they would face if they became POW's. Bucher's small acts of defiance and his support of his crew after they came home are still a model for military leaders, who receive this training right here at Offutt AFB, and across the world at U.S. Military bases and academies. Like that salt on the animal dung, our military took something “pretty crappy" and made something useful out of it.
The disciples of Jesus were mainly the poor, the blind, the lame, the homeless, street kids, sexually trafficked women, lepers and bandits. Like so many of our Boys Town kids, they knew what it was to be in a crappy, dark situation. Our faith calls us to be salt and light. Like Lloyd Bucher, we must aspire to be the light in the darkness and step up, make the best of every situation, and inspire and light the way for others in their darkest hour.