Salt and light
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus and the Law
17 “Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. 19 Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Thoughts on the passage:
In a stunning revelation, Jesus teaches the crowds that salt is supposed to be salty and that a shining light is supposed to shine. While not teaching us anything new about salt or light, Jesus is teaching us something about ourselves. We all have an essential purpose and function in our lives. Our value comes in fulfilling that purpose.
Salt and light are interesting because of what they do. They both enhance things as they are, rather than turn them into something they are not. Not only does salt have a flavor, it becomes a vehicle for other flavors. If you add sugar to a grapefruit, you can try and drown out the grapefruit with sweetness. Instead if you add a little bit of salt, rather than making it salty, you allow the real flavor of the grapefruit to shine.
Light has a similar effect, helping us to see things as they are. Light gives us the ability to see contrasts and colors. Light does not make an object red or green, it helps us to see the red or the green that exists in the object. The value of light is to reveal the full nature of things.
In the same way, Jesus comes to help us see scripture as it is meant to be. Without Jesus, scripture is flat and flavorless. Without Jesus, scripture is dull and dimmed. Once we know Jesus then scripture comes to life. Suddenly the flavors, the vividness, the brightness of what God has been doing is revealed. The purpose of the laws becomes clear, they exist not to enslave us, but to point us towards God. The prophets call us not to accountability to the law, but accountability to who we are supposed to be as followers of God.
There is a phrase is French, raison d’être. It literally translates as “reason to be.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “The thing that is most important to someone or something; the reason for which a person or organization exists.” Saltiness is salt’s raison d’être. Illumination is light’s raison d’être. Jesus is challenging the crowds to embrace their own reasons for being.
Here is the great trap for preachers. It is tempting to tell others their reason for being. It is tempting to look at my own life, my own experiences, and my own understanding of scripture and to tell you all that this is how you are meant to be. It is easy to say we need to be salt and we need to be light and then to go on to tell people exactly what that looks like.
I believe we each have been uniquely created by God. We each have differences and peculiarities to us that make us who we are. To be who God wants us to be means that we will be different. I am not here to tell you what exactly you need to do. I want you to be the best person you can be, just as God made you.
To be a follower of Christ does not mean we must all look, or act, or think alike. On the other hand, I do think there are some things that are essential to being a Christian. I see this reflected in our core values. To be a Christian is to be centered in Christ, to be committed to each other, and to be called to serve the world.
We are called to serve the world as salt and light. We are called to be salt that helps bring out the flavors of everyone around us so that they might taste God’s love and grace. We are called to be light so that everyone around us can see the good things that God is doing through us. To be a follower of Christ is to live not just for ourselves but for everyone.
We are called to serve the world. How we do it, however, is going to look very different for each of us. Each of us has something special that we can do to serve others. Maybe it is preaching, maybe it is teaching, maybe it is building, maybe it is planting, maybe it is healing, maybe it is listening. Being salt and light does not mean we all do the same thing, but it does mean that we all try and live our own life to the fullest. Salt is not supposed to be light, nor is light supposed to be salt.
One person is good at evangelism, and sharing with others the life-changing message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Another is better at social justice, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger. Neither has a monopoly on being a Christian. Neither is more Christian than the other. Both are necessary in God’s work, both are being salt and light to the world.
For the last week, I have been struggling with how to respond to many of the actions of our new president. As I have been reflecting on “serving the world” and “being salt and light” I have struggled with what that means in terms of what I preach, what I say, and what I do. It is not my job to tell you how to live out your faith. Each of us is different. Each of us has gifts that God has given to us and each of us understands a slightly different part of God’s majestic being. I am not going to tell you that to be a good Christian means you must support the president in his actions. I am not going to tell you that to be a good Christian you must resist the president in his actions. To be a good Christian you must be true to who it is God has called you to be.
We are meant to be salt and light to the world. Maybe that means helping people who struggle with drugs and alcohol, if that is your passion and your gift. Maybe that means helping our veterans who come home wounded from serving our country, if that is your passion and your gift. Maybe that means doing what you can to welcome and love your neighbors, whomever they are, if that is your passion and your gift.
Being a Christian is not a self-serving act. To be a Christian is to accept the grace that God offers us and then to live out that grace in our lives. We have been saved by God. What has God saved us for but to be salt and light to a world that needs it. We are called to serve the world. Let us answer that call.
Questions to Ponder:
What are the ways you feel called to serve the world?
What does it mean to be a light to others?
When is a time you have felt like you were hiding your light and why?
God, you call us each in new and different ways. You have blessed us all with so many great gifts. Help us to live into who we are meant to be as followers of you. Help us to be salt and light that transforms the world. Amen