Becoming True Men and Women

by Eberhard Arnold

(Note: Spoken during a meeting with guests at the Rhön Bruderhof on Sunday, September 22, 1935; printed in Salt & Light (Plough 1998).

It has been said that we should become truly human and dedicate ourselves to all people. This true humanity is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ and his Sermon on the Mount. For this we must have the love that exists among children, for with them love rules without any special purpose.

If we can feel what it means to become truly human and to find the right attitude of serving all who suffer; if we can become united about what Jesus said and how he lived, and agree that his nature was clearly revealed in the Sermon on the Mount; if we can recognize that the childlike spirit of love is all we need—then we will know the spirit that leads to such a life, and we will feel very close to one another.

When I read the Sermon on the Mount at the end of the war, decisive things, impossible to express in a few words, became clear to me. It would be much better to read the Sermon on the Mount itself. However, I would like to recount what impressed and influenced me so decisively that I still think about it night and day.

The justice and goodness and social love that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount are quite different from the moral teaching, piety, and dogmatism of theologians and moralists. This is why Jesus speaks of the tree, the salt, the light, and the city. He is speaking of God and his spirit.

Jesus says, "Beware of the Pharisees and theologians: beware of the false moralists when their deeds do not correspond to their words. By the fruit the tree is known." When Jesus speaks of the salt, he says to those who are of his spirit, "You are the salt of the earth!" What does Jesus mean by salt? Jesus is talking about the nature or essence of something. You may not want to hear about God; but think of the intrinsic nature, the essence, of the only thing that can save the world. It is an elixir, but certainly not an elixir of the devil. This is the salt of the earth, the element that can transform the earth's total corruption and ruin into rebirth.

What is this element? Jesus speaks of it in the first words of his Sermon on the Mount, after which he immediately talks about salt. His first words tell us what we will be like when we have the spirit of Jesus Christ, how we will be when we belong to God's kingdom and his future. These words must burn in our hearts and become alive, for the heart is what Jesus speaks about.

Blessed are those who have heart. Blessed are those who love, who build up unity everywhere. Blessed are those who stand with the poor; blessed are those who themselves are poor as beggars. Blessed are those who know themselves as beggars before the Spirit. Blessed are those who are so poor that they hunger and thirst. Blessed are those who feel this hunger and thirst for justice, for the justice of the heart, of love, for the establishment of peace in unity. For they are the people who carry the pain of the world on their hearts, who carry the suffering of the world in their innermost being. They do not think of themselves, for their whole heart is turned toward others.

Yet they are the people who are misunderstood and persecuted because they love justice and do not take part in injustice. This is why they are the salt of the earth. They do not take part in the injustice of mammon. They have no wealth, no savings account, nothing in the bank, nothing invested in houses or land; they have nowhere to go when need comes to them. Jesus tells us not to gather riches on this earth, but to gather the fortune found in love. Let your whole fortune be love, so that wherever you go hearts will open to you. You will be met with hatred because you bring justice, and you will be persecuted and hounded to death for not taking part in injustice. But you will be received with great love in huts which are open for you, and you will be taken in because you bring love.

This is your treasure and your wealth. It will free you of all care. You will be close to nature. You will live with the flowers and the birds, and you will not worry about your clothes or food. You will be one with the birds that find their food, and in harmony with the flowers that are clothed more beautifully than any vain men or women.

This is the new character of salt; this is light. Light makes everything bright and clear. The light meant here is not a cold light. It is the glowing light of hearth and lamp, the light that shines from a ring of torches or that streams from the windows of houses where community is alive. It is the light of truth that exists in love, and the love that rejoices in truth, justice, and purity. It is not the sultry, gloomy love of emotional passion; this brings injustice. It is the love that lightens up faith, that brings clarity to everything. Light is like salt because salt consumes itself, just as a candle burns itself down.

In the Sermon on the Mount, which is a proclamation of love, Jesus speaks of adultery, which can also consist of thoughts and feelings of the heart. Adultery breaks a relationship of faithfulness, truthfulness, and responsible love. But light and salt overcome such things. The same is true when people swear oaths and make vows in order to be believed. Jesus says, "Just by this you prove that no one can believe you. Say simply yes or no. Be completely true."

People think they should love their friends, who show love to them. But Jesus says, "Love your enemies." This means that you can never kill anyone. You can never hurt or kill souls, for you must live in absolute love. This love will become so complete that you cannot go to law against another. If someone wants to take your cloak, take off your jacket and give that as well. If someone demands of you one hour's work, give two. It must be like this with everything. Your life will have a kind of perfection, although you will not be saints. The perfection will consist in this: you will be very weak and you will make many mistakes; you will be awkward, for you will be poor in spirit and hunger and thirst for justice. You will not be perfect, but you will love. This is the gate and the way. Whatever you desire for yourself, wish the same for others. If you expect something from people, give the same to them.

There is nothing greater than love. There is nothing more holy than love. There is nothing more true than love, nothing more real. So let us hand our lives over to love and seal the bond of love.